ARTICLE 19 urges the Tunisian authorities to drop charges against Tunisian blogger and activist Oteyl Herzi, and to stop the unlawful practice of using repealed legislation to prosecute bloggers.
Oteyl was arrested on Friday 29 July 2022 by security agents in Jendouba, in connection with the publication of a Facebook post criticising the inability of local officials to solve various problems in the city.
Oteyl is an activist in Jendouba, a city known for the lack of development and the absence of several vital facilities. He regularly posts political opinions on the actions of local officials on his Facebook account.
The post which led to his arrest reads: “Did the mafia return to Ghar Dimaou [a small town in Jendouba Governorate]? Don’t you notice? Aren’t you watching? Have you been bought?”
In past few years, the authorities have arrested, prosecuted and convicted dozens of bloggers under Article 86 of the Telecommunications Code, which states that “anyone found guilty of using public communication networks to insult or disturb others could spend one to two years in prison and may be liable to pay a fine of one hundred to one hundred thousand dinars.”
Along with Articles 128 and 245 of the Penal Code, Article 86 is increasingly being used to prosecute activists, in order to harass and intimidate them by repeatedly summoning them for hearings and investigations.
This is despite the fact that Article 86 was abrogated by the transitional provisions of Decree Law No. 115 of 2011 on freedom of the press. The Decree Law effectively maintained the same crime in its Articles 55 and 57 but provided for a lighter sanction: a fine instead of imprisonment. The Court of First Instance in Manouba affirmed this in its judgment on 14 May 2020, related to similar incidents.
Although the Decree Law primarily concerns freedom of the press, it seeks to regulate freedom of expression more broadly. This means that, at the very least, it should be applied to bloggers so that they can benefit from a lighter sentence.
It should be noted that, contrary to the President’s assurances to guarantee freedom of expression, opinion trials did not stop and many individuals continue to be harassed or jailed because of their criticism of officials at the national and local levels.
ARTICLE 19 also notes that the criminalisation of bloggers for defamation and insult is in violation of both international law and standards, as well as Tunisia’s own constitutional provisions protecting freedom of expression. The crackdown on bloggers and all those who express their opinions and criticisms through social media on issues of public interest is contrary to their rights to freedom of expression, and to the vital role this right plays in democratic participation and holding authorities accountable.
Therefore, we call on the authorities to end this practice and drop charges against Oteyl Herzi.
ARTICLE 19 has analysed Article 86 of the Telecommunications Code, which is a tool of intimidation and has chilling effects on freedom of expression and the participation of individuals in public affairs.
Tunisia ranked 63 out of 161 countries in the 2022 Global Expression Report – ARTICLE 19’s annual review of the state of freedom of expression and the right to information around the world.