ARTICLE 19 urges the Tunisian authorities to drop charges against Tunisian blogger and activist, Maryam Bribri and to stop the unlawful practice of using repealed legislation to prosecute bloggers. Bribri will be brought before the Court of First Instance in Sfax on 8 February 2021 on charges of insulting others through public communications networks. Bribri had shared a video documenting the assault of a security agent against a citizen in Nabeul governorate on her Facebook account. She also criticised the Security Institution and the violent behaviours used by the police while carrying out their duties.
Maryam Bribri is a civil society activist and has participated in several demonstrations and youth-led campaigns against the adoption of controversial laws, such as the economical reconciliation Law or the draft law against attacks on security forces or the state of emergency. The authorities, during the previous few years, 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 dinars1.”
Along with Articles 128 and 245 of the Penal Code, Article 86is increasingly being used in what are known as strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) in Tunisia, which aim to prosecute activists in order to harass and intimidate them by repeatedly summoning them for hearings and investigations without quickly proceeding their trial, which discourages individuals from participating in public campaigns or from organizing campaigns in the future.
This is despite the fact that Article 86 was abrogated by the transitional provisions of Decree Law No. 115 of 2011on freedom of the press . The Decree Law effectively maintained the same crime in its Articles 55 and 57 but provided for a lighter sanction, i.e.a fine instead of imprisonment. The Court of First Instance in Manouba affirmed this in its judgment on14 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.
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. We call on the authorities to end this practice and drop charges against Bribri and others.
For example, the following bloggers were subjected to either prison sentences or arrested or summoned for publishing posts containing criticism of the public authorities in Tunisia: Amina Mansour, Aymen Ben Salma, Hichem Mejri, Sahbi Amri, ChakerJehmi, Ahmed Ghram and Rami Riahi.