The Tunisian government continues to undermine press freedom, escalating its policy of harassing journalists and stifling freedom of expression.
On Wednesday, 12 April 2023, and for the third consecutive time in the space of a month, authorities will launch an investigation into the work of journalists Monia Arfaoui and Mohamed Boughlab. This follows a complaint lodged against them by the Ministry of Religious Affairs based on the provisions of the Tunisian criminal code and Decree-Law No. 2022-54 of 13 September 2022 on combating offences relating to information and communication systems (Decree-law No. 54).
Monia Arfaoui, a journalist for the newspaper Al-Sabah, was questioned by the investigating judge on 24 and 31 March 2023, following two complaints lodged against her by the Ministry.
Similarly, Mohamed Boughlab, a journalist for the radio station Cap FM, appeared in court on Friday, 7 April 2023 in connection with his reports about the Minister of Religious Affairs being given a luxury car that had been seized by the customs department – a matter of clear public interest.
Boughlab is being prosecuted following a complaint filed by the legal department of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which accuses him of defamation and dissemination of false news under Article 128 of the Penal Code and Article 24 of Decree No. 54 of 2022.
The prosecution of Boughlab is at least the third prosecution of journalists and columnists on the basis of the problematic and flawed Decree No. 54. In November 2022, the director of the website Business, Nizar Bahloul, was prosecuted after Justice Minister Laila Jaffar lodged the complaint against him for an article criticising government policy – in particular, policy and work led by Prime Minister Najla Bouden over the previous 13 months.
Following on from the previous prosecution, Monia Arfaoui was prosecuted in March 2023 by the Ministry of Religious Affairs based on the same Decree-Law, and because of a post criticising the suspension of a partnership programmed between the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The undersigned organisations and associations express their unconditional support for Mohamed Boughlab, Monia Arfaoui and all journalists and producers of journalistic content who are being prosecuted by for criticising public policies and reporting on matters of public interest.
We also condemn the Tunisian government’s attack on press freedom and the use of repressive legal texts to penalise criticism of the state’s public policies.
Decree-Law No. 54 presents the latest legal tool in the government’s arsenal to crack down on dissidents and prosecute critics. It is deeply flawed and in contravention of international standards as it criminalises protected speech, provides for excessive and disproportionate penalties and grants authorities far-reaching investigatory powers and lacks procedural safeguards.
The signatories therefore urge the Tunisian Parliament to reject Decree-Law No. 54.
We further remind the Tunisian authorities, including the judiciary, that Decree-Law 2011-115 of 2 November 2011 relating
to freedom of the press, printing and publication is more protective of freedom of expression than Decree-Law No. 54 and Article 128 of the Penal Code and should be applied over more repressive legislation to protect freedom of speech.
The signatories also call on civil society and political activists to launch a national campaign to suspend the application of Decree-Law No. 54. They call on them to attend the vigil that will be organised from 9am on Wednesday 12 April in front of the Gorjani police station in solidarity with Monia Arfaoui and Mohamed Boughlab.
Signatory organisations and associations:
Alkarama Association for Rights and Freedoms
Association for Justice and Rehabilitation
Association for the Activation of the Right to Difference
Association Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’Etat Civil
Centre for the Support of Democratic Transition and Human Rights – Daam
Committee for the respect of freedoms and human rights in Tunisia
Damj Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality
Hassan El Saadawi Association for Democracy and Equality
Intersection Association for Rights and Freedoms
Mossawat égalité organisation
Nachaz Dissonances Association
National Commission for the Defence of Freedoms and Democracy
National Observatory for the Defence of the Civilian Character of the State
National Union of Tunisian Journalists
Syndicate of unemployed graduates
Tunisian Association for Governance and Social Responsibility
Tunisian Association for the Defence of Individual Freedoms
Tunisian Association of Democratic Women
Tunisian Coalition for the Abolition of the Death Penalty
Tunisian Federation of Newspaper Editors
Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT)
Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights
Tunisian Network for Transitional Justice
Tunisian Organisation Against Torture
Union of Independent Tunisians for Freedom