Tunisia sentences two journalists to one year in prison for dissemination of ‘false news’ |



A Tunisian court on Wednesday sentenced two journalists to one year in prison on charges of publishing “false news that harms public security,” a judicial official said.

Mourad Zghidi and Borhan Bsaiss, both journalists with IFM radio, were detained this month over political comments made on the radio and on Facebook. A fellow commentator Solnia Dahamani, who was also arrested is still awaiting trial.

Tunisia has now imprisoned a total of six journalists, including Zghidi and Bsaiss, while dozens of others face judicial prosecution, according to the journalists syndicate, which is the country’s main union for journalists.

In May, police arrested ten people, including journalists, lawyers and officials of civil society groups, in what Amnesty International called a “deep crackdown” targeting activists and journalists.  The government says the judiciary is independent and will therefore not seek to influence the cases.

“The judge decided to imprison them for a year following social media posts and radio comments that harm public security,” said Mohamed Zitouna, the Tunis court spokesman.

During their trial earlier in the day, Bsaiss and Zghidi invoked freedom of expression and insisted that comments they had made were merely part of their jobs as media figures.

They were facing up to five years in prison under Decree 54, a law signed by President Kais Saied in September 2022 that punishes the use of communications networks to “produce, spread (or) disseminate … false news” with the aim of “harming” and “defaming” others.

Bsaiss was facing charges for “attacking President Kais Saied through radio broadcasts and statements between 2019 and 2022,” according to his lawyer.

“I’m a host, so I must present all opinions regardless of their orientations,” Bsaiss said during the hearing.

During his trial session, Bsaiss pointed out: “I am a programme presenter who presents all issues, and what I did was journalistic work.”

“I’m neither an opponent nor a supporter of the president,” Zghidi said during the hearing.

“Sometimes I support his choices and sometimes I criticise them. It’s part of my job.”

He was being prosecuted for comments made in February and for expressing support for journalist Mohamed Boughalleb, who is also in detention.

Zghidi also defended himself during the session, saying: “I did not make a mistake …. My work requires analysing the political and economic situation … and I bear my responsibility”.

Tunisian journalists gathered near the court on Wednesday, demanding an end to ongoing restrictions against them.

Government critics say that freedom of the press faces a serious threat under the rule of President Kais Saied who came to power following free elections in 2019.

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