European Parliament condemns Tunisia’s crackdown on press freedom, calls for journalist’s release
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails the European Parliament’s approval of an emergency resolution condemning the increase in press freedom violations in Tunisia, thereby putting pressure on the European Commission to adopt sanctions against the Tunisian authorities.
“In this resolution, the European Parliament has shown that, even if Tunisia is a ‘privileged partner’ for the European Union, it does not intend to allow a capricious regime to trample with impunity on the rights and freedoms acquired at a high price during the first of the Arab Spring revolutions. We welcome this resolution and we urge the European Commission and EU member countries to speak out in defence of press freedom and journalists in Tunisia.
As President Kais Saied continues his unrelenting persecution of journalists, the dramatic deterioration in Tunisia has clearly not gone unnoticed by MEPs, who passed a resolution on 16 March that strongly criticises his increasingly authoritarian stance on public freedoms, urges the Tunisian authorities to end “ the ongoing crackdown on civil society” and calls for the release of Radio Mosaïque FM director Noureddine Boutar, who has been arrested on 13 February.
After an initial resolution in 2021 that just voiced concern about President Saied’s undemocratic conduct, the European Parliament has taken a strong stance this time. In the light of his repeated attacks on civil society, it is now calling on the EU to suspend its cooperation with Tunisia’s justice and interior ministries. Passed by a large majority (92%), this tough resolution is in line with a global withdrawal trend on the part of international donors, as seen in the World Bank’s recent decision to pause its work in Tunisia.
After taking office as president in 2019, Saied seized full powers in July 2021, dissolved parliament in early 2022 and oversaw the adoption of a controversial new constitution that is very draconian.
In practice, respect for rights and freedoms in general and press freedom in particular has declined steadily since 2019 to the point that an open war is now being waged against the media, as RSF demonstrated in a report entitled “Journalism in Tunisia: the moment of truth.” The crackdown keeps on worsening, as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also pointed out last month. The latest abuse was a wave of arrests of civil society members from 11 to 13 February.
Radio Mosaïque FM director Noureddine Boutar, who was one of those who were arrested in this round-up, is currently the only journalist detained in Tunisia. As well as calling for his release, the European Parliament resolution condemned the recent arrests of journalists working for the OneTN new website after it was raided, and the prison sentences passed on two journalists, Khalifa Gasmi and Salah Attia, in 2022.
After falling 20 places, Tunisia is ranked 94th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.