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Tunisia: Journalists protest in Tunis over press freedom

Tunisian columnist Haythem Mekki (L) and radio presenter Elyes Gharbi (C) gesture as they wait outside the offices of el-Gorjani Criminal Brigade in Tunis on May 22, 2023.   -  
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Dozens of Tunisian journalists have held a demonstration outside the El Gorjani Police Research Department in Tunis in support of two journalists under investigation. The protesters including one of the summoned journalists Elyes Gharbi, denounceed what they called attempts to stifle press freedom in the country.

"We are here because we are being reproached for certain remarks made in the program of May 15, 2023. These comments were, in our opinion, constructive comments. They are critical, of course, but constructive. Today, there is perhaps another reading on the part of the authorities. We will explain to the authorities that we are journalists. And as such, we have the right to criticize. As such, we criticize in a constructive spirit and in a spirit where there is freedom of speech, freedom of thought and we will defend that." Elyes Gharbi, radio presenter said.

The summoning of the two journalists folows the use of anti-terrorism laws to increase to five years a jail term handed to Khalima Guesmi, also at Mosaique FM radio station, after he appealed a one-year sentence delivered in November.

Guesmi was found guilty of having intentionally disclosed "information relating to operations of interception, infiltration, audiovisual surveillance or data collection", his lawyer said after the latest ruling.

"There is a frank and clear (political) orientation towards lockdown and repression, which targets disobedient media," said Mahdi Jlassi, president of the journalists' union.

"We are once again raising the alarm against the rollback of freedoms in this country and the legal proceedings targeting journalists, lawyers and trade unionists, and other people for comments, articles, or even a song."

On Monday, two Tunisian students were detained after posting a satirical song on social media that criticised police and laws against drug use.

Around 20 journalists are currently being prosecuted for their work, Jlassi added.

Several local and international rights groups and trade unions on Tuesday warned "against the seriousness of the repressive direction of the current authorities" and called on activists and civil society "to mobilise to defend freedoms and human rights".

These groups have criticised the decline in civic freedoms in Tunisia since President Kais Saied launched a sweeping power grab on July 25, 2021.

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