Tunisia: Stop violating press freedom and journalists’ rights

Tunisia: Stop violating press freedom and journalists’ rights - Media

Tunisian journalist Zied Al-Heni. Photo credit: Ithar25 /Wikimedia Commons

ARTICLE 19 condemns the arrest and detention of journalist Zied Al-Heni on the evening of Tuesday, 20 June 2023 following a comment he made on IFM Radio about the ‘crime of ‘committing a brutal act against the President of the Republic’. Although he was released on the morning of 22 June, an investigation into the matter is ongoing. Al-Heni is being charged under Article 67 of Tunisia’s Penal Code.

The arrest and interrogation of Al-Heni was marred by procedural breaches. His rights to a lawyer and to a fair trial, guaranteed under Tunisia’s constitution and laws, were both violated. His lawyers, who were present at the investigation headquarters after his arrest, were incorrectly informed that Al-Heni refused to have lawyers present with him during the trial. 

The Public Prosecution of the Court of First Instance authorised Al-Heni’s detention after he was taken from his home to face interrogations at the Fifth Brigade for Combating Information and Communication Technology Crimes of the National Guard in Al Aouina, Tunis.

After the detention permit was issued, one of Al-Heni’s lawyers told the media that she was not allowed access to her client until after the investigation had concluded, and at that point authorities asked her to sign the detention decision without letting her see the minutes of the hearing. This is a dangerous precedent and a clear violation of the provisions of Law No. 5 of 2016 dated 16 February, 2016 on the revision and completion of certain provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which stipulates that a lawyer is allowed to review the search procedures before the date of hearing, and that the hearing should only take place in the presence of the lawyer. 

ARTICLE 19 condemns the systematic and frequent violations targeting the  profession of journalism. The organisation continues to monitor and document cases of persecution and harassment of journalists, as well as prosecutions against them under laws other than those regulating press freedom. It recalls that such practices amount to mistreatment of journalists and threaten their freedom to carry out their work,  as well as serious violations of freedom of expression and the press and Tunisia’s obligations under international laws, treaties, and conventions. 

These violations completely contravene Tunisia’s constitution, which guarantees freedom of opinion and thought, the freedom to publish opinion, and a free media. It upholds the principles of fair trial, and protects against violations of these principles. Bringing charges against journalists because of their opinions and the information they publish, and using laws other than those applicable to the press also contravenes international standards on freedom of expression, which requires application of Decree No. 115 2011 issued on 2 November 2011 relating to freedom of the press, printing, and publishing. 

ARTICLE 19 calls for the charges against Al-Heni to be dropped  and calls on judicial authorities to stop targeting journalists for their opinions and publications. We call on Tunisian authorities to put an end to all violations against journalists and harassment of them for performing their duties. The organisation also urges the relevant authorities to abide by the provisions of the Tunisian constitution, especially Articles 33, 37 and 38 thereof, which guarantee the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of opinion, thought and media, as well as the right to information and access to information.