Journalist’s five-year jail sentence sends “terrifying” message to Tunisia’s media

The unprecedented five-year jail sentence that a Tunis appeal court has passed on a radio reporter sends a“terrifying” message to Tunisia’s media, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), voicing its full support for the reporter, who remains free pending an appeal to Tunisia’s court of cassation.

The jail term imposed yesterday (16 May) on Khalifa Guesmi, a journalist with privately-owned radio Mosaïque FM, was five times as long as the one-year sentence he received on 30 November 2022 from a lower court, which did not order his immediate imprisonment.

Guesmi was convicted over a report about the dismantling of a terrorist cell in the city of Kairouan, in which he was alleged to have violated provisions of Tunisia’s anti-terrorism law and penal code. After his lawyers demonstrated that the accusations were baseless, it became clear that he was being persecuted above all for his refusal to name his sources.

Reacting swiftly to the “unprecedented” five-year sentence, the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) said it carried a “political message that clearly expresses a dramatic escalation in the persecution of the media and journalists, and in attempts to subjugate them by using the judiciary.” The SNJT called for a rally outside its headquarters in Tunis tomorrow (18 May) in protest against what it also described as “one of the heaviest sentences in the Tunisian media’s history.”

“By means of this case, Tunisia’s journalists and media are being sent the terrifying message that freedom of expression and journalism are being openly muzzled. We express our total solidarity with Khalifa Guesmi and Tunisian journalists in the face of what is an unacceptable summons to self-censorship on pain of imprisonment.

Khaled Drareni
RSF’s North Africa representative

Guesmi’s sentence follows an increase in press freedom violations in Tunisia. Noureddine Boutar, the director of Mosaïque FM, the radio station for which Guesmi works, has been detained since 20 February on charges of money laundering and illegal enrichment, his lawyers say. He is still awaiting a trial date, which keeps on being deferred.

RSF denounced Boutar’s arrest as a “forceful message to the media from the authorities.” It was designed to “terrorise and subjugate journalists, and to send them back to the era of the Ben Ali dictatorship,” RSF said, adding that “the growing authoritarianism, previously signalled and now amply confirmed, must be strongly condemned.”

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