Tunisian lawyers’ strike for arrest of colleague over controversial remarks sparks tensions |

TUNIS, Tunisia



The Tunisian lawyers’ union launched a nationwide strike Monday after Sonia Dahmani, a lawyer and media commentator, was arrested on Saturday over sarcastic remarks about Tunisia.

The strike is expected to continue to at least Thursday when a lawyer’s rally is scheduled.

Dahmani was charged with distributing false information and disrupting public order after making the remarks last week during a TV programme.

The woman commnetator provoked an uproar when she said during a TV debate that Tunisia is hardly a great country where migrants would like to settle. Her remarks were considered demeaning but Dahmani said she meant only to be sarcastic about the situation in the country and argue that sub-Saharan migrants wanted to cross the Mediterranean from Tunisia and not to settle 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 as was considered a fugitive.

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.

The detention of  Dahmani, Bssais and Zeghidi was prolonged for another 48 hours on Monday.

The three were arrested under Decree 54, which outlaws “spreading false news” online or in the media, and which journalists and opposition figures argue is being used to stifle dissent.

Signed by Saied in 2022, the decree mandates up to five years in prison for the use of communications networks to “produce, spread (or) disseminate… false news” or to “slander others, tarnish their reputation, financially or morally harm them”.

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 have ratcheted up tensions and 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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