Two Tunisian journalists undergoing trial at a military tribunal, face up to three years in prison for defaming the country’s armed forces.
The chief editor of the newspaper and website Al Sadaa (The Echo), Rached Khiari and independent journalist Jamel Arfaoui were charged in November 16 and September 26 respectively with impugning the reputation of the army.
The Human Rights Watch on Wednesday called on Tunisia’s military prosecutor to immediately drop charges against the two journalists and the Tunisian parliament to reform all laws that provide prison terms for defaming or insulting state institutions.
Instead of trying to silence critics, authorities should be fixing the laws adopted during more repressive times that criminalize criticism of institutions or public figures.
“Instead of trying to silence critics, authorities should be fixing the laws adopted during more repressive times that criminalize criticism of institutions or public figures,” Tunisia director at Human Rights Watch, Amna Guellali said.
“Military courts are resorting again and again to the same article of military law to muzzle speech,” she added.
Rached Khiari’s was charged following comments he made on a television talk show alleging that Tunisian authorities had signed an agreement allowing the United States to establish a military base in Tunisia, citing an October 26 Washington Post article.
For Jamel Arfaoui, he was charged for an article he published on July 30 on the website Tunisie-telegraph.com, criticizing as inadequate the army’s lack of investigation into a military plane crash that killed two officers.
Human Rights Watch says trying both journalists before a military tribunal “violates the norm of international law that military courts should not have jurisdiction over civilians.”
The international rights body also cited the Principles and Guidelines on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Africa and Tunisia’s obligations under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which contravene the trial.
Both journalists are free pending trial.
These two are not the first to undergo trial in a military tribunal as blogger Yassine Ayari was sentenced in 2015 to six months in prison for his Facebook posts criticizing the army. He was provisionally released after four months in prison.