‘Down with the dictatorship’: Tunisians demonstrate against government repression against the media | Media news

The demonstration comes after two Tunisian commentators critical of President Saeid were sentenced to prison.

Several hundred Tunisians have marched through the capital, Tunis, chanting “down with the dictatorship” as they protested a series of arrests under a presidential decree that critics say is being used to suppress dissent.

Since the 2011 Tunisian revolution, the country has been considered one of the most open media environments in the Arab world. But politicians, journalists and unions say press freedom has faced a serious threat under the government of President Kais Saied, who came to power after free elections in 2019.

Two Tunisian media figures received one-year prison sentences in recent days after making comments authorities deemed critical, in the latest prosecutions under Decree 54 issued by Saied in 2022 prohibiting the “spreading of fake news.” .

“Down with the decree,” protesters shouted as they marched through Tunisia on Friday.

“Dictator Kais, now it is your turn,” they added, alluding to the Arab Spring uprising, which overthrew former leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

Two years after his election, Saied closed the elected parliament and began to govern by decree. He also assumed authority over the judiciary, a step the opposition called a coup d’état.

Many of his critics have since been prosecuted or sent to prison.

On Wednesday, broadcaster Borhen Bsaies and political commentator Mourad Zeghidi were sentenced to one year in prison: six months for spreading “fake news” and another six months for “spreading news that includes false information with the aim of defaming others.”

During the hearing, both Bsaies and Zeghidi defended their “journalistic work.”

Zghidi’s lawyer, Kamel Massoud, called Decree 54 “unconstitutional.”

“When politics enters the courts, justice leaves,” he said.

Tunisia has imprisoned a total of six journalists, including Bsaies and Zeghidi, since Saeid Decree 54 came into effect.

Meanwhile, more than 60 journalists, lawyers and opposition figures have been prosecuted under the same decree, according to the National Union of Tunisian Journalists.

In May, police arrested 10 people, including journalists, lawyers and civil society group officials, in what Amnesty International called a “deep crackdown” on activists and journalists. Human Rights Watch has called on Tunisia to respect freedom of expression and civil liberties.

In January, Tunisian authorities also arrested journalist Samir Sassi on charges of “terrorism.”

The arrests have drawn criticism from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, as well as France, Tunisia’s former colonial ruler.

Saied has dismissed the criticism as foreign “interference.”

He also rejected accusations of authoritarian rule and said his measures were aimed at ending years of “chaos and corruption” in the country.

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