Tunisia: IFJ calls on Tunisian president to stop prosecution of journalists

  • 05 Jan 2024

NUJ joins the International Federation of Journalists and the Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens in calling on the Tunisian president to release Zied El Heni who has been arrested and detained.

On 28 December, Tunisian journalist Zied el-Heni was arrested and detained following a broadcast on the private radio station IFM. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), together with its affiliate, the Syndicat national des journalistes tunisiens (SNJT), has sent an open letter to Mr Kais Saied, President of the Republic of Tunisia, asking him to uphold the Constitution, protect press freedom, and to ensure the immediate release of El Heni and other journalists that are behind bars.

Open letter to Mr Kais Saied, President of the Republic of Tunisia: the head of state must exercise his powers to uphold the constitution and protect press freedom

Mr. Kais Saied, President of the Republic of Tunisia, 

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), signatory of this open letter, expresses its deepest concern at the frequent imprisonment of journalists, in total contravention of the provisions of the Tunisian Constitution in respect of freedom of expression and the media. We are mindful that this is a time when Tunisia is celebrating the anniversary of the revolution of December 17, 2010 – January 14, 2011, when Tunisians rose up against corruption and tyranny.

The arrest of journalist Ziad el-Heni and his imprisonment pending trial, according to Telecommunications Journal, have fundamentally undermined the guarantees provided by the Tunisian constitution, laws and international agreements that the country has signed within the framework of the protection of journalists. Furthermore, it has opened the door to flagrant violations of law and procedure that could expose him to a full two-year prison sentence. 

More than thirty journalists were arrested in 2023 alone, using the provisions of Decree 54, of the Telecommunications Code and the Law on Combating Terrorism and Money Laundering. Ziad el-Heni's case is not an isolated one, but  clearly indicates the existence of a systematic policy of instrumentalising legal procedures and the judicial system to systematically intimidate, bully and imprison journalists. This situation is arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional, and threatens to transform Tunisia, an Arab and international model for the protection of freedoms in practice and legislation, into one big prison for journalists.

The injustice inflicted on our colleague Ziad el-Heni comes on top of the even more serious violations inflicted on our colleague Khalifa Al-Qasimi, who was imprisoned by the terrorist section of the Tunisian court with the heaviest sentence in the history of journalism in the country, five years, for the alleged crime that he published an accurate press article using information that he obtained from an official security source. In a case marred by horrific violations, the judicial authorities have taken an unjustifiably long and suspicious time to set a date for a follow-up hearing since May 2023. The unjust and arbitrary detention of our colleague Shatha Al-Hajj Mubarak, on trial since September 2021 for allegedly plotting against the internal security of the State, continues despite the fact that Tunisian law guarantees her trial in a state of freedom. This is  a clear abuse of power and violation of procedures.

All the cases mentioned above will have negative repercussions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Tunisia, and on the public's right to know. They all undermine the rules and ethics of professional journalists, able to do their work free from domination by authoritarian centers of political and financial influence. We count on you to use all your powers to uphold the Constitution, protect press freedom, and to ensure the release of our colleagues Ziad el-Heni, Khalifa Al-Qasimi and Shaza Al-Hajj Mubarak., It is time to put an end to the arbitrary application of laws and decrees that violate the procedures for finding journalists.

Download the open letter in Arabic here.

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