Tunisian lawyers call for strike over arrest of colleague, civil society voices concern |

TUNIS, Tunisia



The Tunisian lawyers’ union called on Sunday for a nationwide general strike to be held by all lawyers starting on Monday.

The call for the strike came after Sonia Dahmani, a lawyer and media commentator, was arrested on Saturday over sarcastic remarks about Tunisia on a local television programme last week. She was charged with distributing false information and disrupting public order.

Dahmani had said during a TV debate that Tunisia is hardly a great country where migrants would like to settle. Her remarks provoked an uproar in the country. But Dahmani said she meant only to be sarcastic about the situation in the country and argue that sub-Saharan migrants aimed at crossing the Mediterranean from Tunisia and not at settling permanently in the North African nation.

Dahmani’s advocates had gathered at the bar association on Saturday to protest a warrant for her arrest when police stormed the building as she refused to surrender to authorities.

The bar association has long carried “symbolic power” in Tunisia, so much so that the authorities did not enter its premises, Fadoua Braham, a Tunisian lawyer, told The Associated Press.

The Tunisian General Labour Union, the country’s most powerful workers’ group, joined other civil society organisations, activists and lawyers at the bar association headquarters on Sunday.

The trade union group said it “strongly condemns this blatant and unprecedented attack on the Tunisian legal profession and considers it one of the preludes to establishing a state of violations and tyranny, especially since it came after a wave of incitement, promotion of hate speech, division and treason.”

Authorities on Saturday evening also arrested television and radio personalities Borhen Bssais and Mourad Zeghidi for expressing critical views. Dahmani participated in the same programmes than Bssais and Zeghidi.

Tunisian lawyer Ghazi Mrabet told AFP the judiciary on Sunday placed both under a “48-hour detention warrant and (they) will have to appear before an examining magistrate”.

He said Zeghidi was being pursued “for a social media post in which he supported an arrested journalist”, Mohamed Boughalleb, sentenced to six months in prison for defaming a public official and making “statements made during television shows since February”.

Arrest warrants were issued for Bssais and Zeghidi for disseminating “false information … with the aim of defaming others or harming their reputation”, Tunis court spokesman Mohamed Zitouna told AFP.

Mrabet said Bssais was detained under Decree 54, which punishes the production and dissemination of “false news”.

The law, signed by President Kais Saied in September 2022, has been criticised by journalists and opposition figures who say it has been used to stifle dissent.

Since it came into force, several journalists, lawyers and opposition figures have been prosecuted, according to the National Union of Tunisian Journalists.

The recent arrests added to the concerns of human rights defenders in Tunisia. They came less than a week after the detention of two leading activists involved in the defence of migrant rights over money laundering suspicions.

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