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Tunisian journalist sentenced to 6 months in prison for insulting an official

Tunisian journalist sentenced to 6 months in prison for insulting an official
People take part in a demonstration against the policies of President Kais Saied, in Tunis, Tunisia, on 5 March 2023.   -  
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Hassene Dridi/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.


A Tunisian judge has sentenced a journalist and political commentator to six months in prison, in the latest attack on members of the media who criticize the government.

Mohamed Boughalleb, who had been accused of insulting a civil servant, was convicted on Wednesday and will remain behind bars, where he has been since his arrest last month after a civil servant filed a complaint against him.

The official claimed to have been aggrieved by Mr Boughalleb's comments linking him to corruption and misuse of public funds.

The complaint by a member of the Tunisian Ministry of Religious Affairs was filed after Mr. Boughalleb questioned, on Facebook, the official's foreign trips with the minister and called them a "waste of public funds.

He was later accused of violating defamation laws in Tunisia's penal code and telecommunications code.

Lawyers for Mr. Boughalleb, aged 60, denounced the conviction as an “attack on freedom of expression” and questioned its political nature. He joined a chorus of Tunisians who have questioned the government's pursuit of its critics, as President Kais Saied prepares to compete for a second term as leader of the North African country.

Authorities have increasingly targeted and arrested journalists this year and around 20 are currently facing similar charges, said Ziad Dabbar, president of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists.

The conviction of a well-known radio and television commentator like Mr. Boughalleb constitutes "another attempt to silence free voices and prevent journalists from doing their work," said Mr. Dabbar.

Journalists critical of the government are among many groups who have seen their civil liberties restricted in Tunisia. More than 20 activists and politicians critical of Mr. Saied have been behind bars for more than a year, accused of plotting against state security in cases that their defenders have denounced as politicized.

The prosecution of journalists, cartoonists and political opponents comes nearly five years after Mr. Saied won the presidency on an anti-corruption agenda and months before he sought a second term in office. of an election that has not yet been scheduled.

After taking office, Mr. Saied suspended Tunisia's parliament, rewrote the constitution to consolidate his own power and reduced the independence of a judicial system that has since stepped up its prosecution of its critics and opponents.

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