Tunisia police release journalist who filmed lawyers HQ raid

The European Union (EU) has also expressed concern over the recent arrests. [Getty]

Tunisian authorities released Tuesday one of the journalists who filmed the latest raid on the Lawyers’ Bar headquarters amid a new crackdown on the opposition ahead of the upcoming presidential election.

“What is worse than the arrest is the erasure of my photos. During the second raid on ‘the Lawyers’ House’, I was present at an opportune moment and managed to take pictures, but unfortunately, they were erased by the security forces at the Aouina barracks,” wrote Yassine Mahjoub after his release late on Tuesday.

Late on Monday, Mahjoub, a Tunisian photojournalist, was arrested while taking pictures of Tunisian security forces raiding “the Lawyers’ House” in Tunis and arresting lawyer Mahdi Zagrouba, a prominent figure known for his opposition to President Kais Saied.

A live broadcast on the Tunmedia website showed videos of broken glass doors and toppled chairs while officers arrested lawyer Zagrouba. Other lawyers could be heard screaming in the background.

Tunisia’s interior ministry said, “The judicial decision against Zagrouba was due to his physical and verbal assault on two policemen near the courtroom” during a protest on Monday, 13 May.

This marks the second time Tunisian police have forcibly entered the Lawyers’ Bar offices. In a similar raid on Saturday, they arrested prominent lawyer and activist Sonia Dahmani, also known for her criticism of Saied. 

Dahmani said on a television program last week that life in Tunisia is “unpleasant.”

“What kind of extraordinary country are we talking about? The one that half of its youth want to leave?” she remarked about Saied’s speech, in which he claimed a conspiracy to push thousands of undocumented migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan African countries to stay in Tunisia.

Dahmani was arrested under Decree 54, which outlaws “spreading false news” online or in the media, a measure that journalists and opposition figures argue is being used to silence criticism against the Tunisian president.

Radio presenter Borhen Bsaies and political commentator Mourad Zeghidi were also arrested last weekend over radio comments and social media posts under the same decree.

Anyone found guilty under Decree 54 can face a five-year prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 Tunisian dinars (US$15,940), doubling to 10 years imprisonment if the “false reports” include a public official.

“This situation requires a lot of caution to prevent Tunisian media from slipping back into the control of the authorities, a control it was freed from thanks to the 2011 revolution,” said Jihaan Louati, a member of the executive office of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), told Al-Araby Al-JadeedTNA’s Arabic-language sister publication, on Tuesday.

In reaction, the bar association declared a nationwide strike, and thousands protested on Monday against Saied’s attempts to quell the country’s judiciary system.

The European Union (EU) has also expressed concern over the recent arrests, arguing that freedoms of expression and association constitute the basis of its partnership with President Siaed.

Tunisia’s recent crackdown on lawyers and journalists has also targeted anti-racism activists whom the president has claimed are “traitors who receive money to destabilise the state.”

Two outspoken anti-racism activists, Ghofran Binous and Fatma Ezzahra Ltifi, were summoned for questioning on Tuesday morning over undisclosed allegations.

Many of Saied opponents perceive the EU as an accomplice in Saied’s anti-migrant policy and growing oppression against all critical voices, as the bloc continues to negotiate with the president more migration deals despite all his controversial policies, deemed racist and authoritarian by the Tunisian opposition.

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