Reporters Without Borders is appalled that a Tunis court yesterday fined Nasreddine Ben Saida, the publisher of the daily Attounissia, 1,000 dinars (500 euros) for publishing a photo of a well-known football player embracing a naked model on the front page of the newspaper’s 15 February issue.
The court also ordered the photo’s deletion from the issue, which was seized when it appeared.
“At a time when the growing number of physical attacks on journalists are going unpunished, this unfair trial is utterly outrageous,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The charges against Ben Saida should have been dropped because the prosecutor’s office based its case on an article of the criminal code that has been repealed since 2 March. And the sentence was symbolically heavy as the fine was sizeable.”
Ben Saida’s lawyers have decided to appeal.
24.02.2012 - Newspaper publisher released conditionally amid continuing tension
Tunis judge Faouzi Jebali yesterday granted Nasreddine Ben Saida, the publisher of the daily Attounissia, a provisional release and postponed his trial until 8 March. Ben Saida, who went on hunger strike, was held for more than a week for publishing a photo of a football player embracing a naked model.
The same judge is also presiding the trial of Nessma TV head Nabil Karoui, which has been postponed until 19 April.
“We are relieved by Ben Saida’s release but it does not change the unjust nature of this trial,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We firmly condemn the fact that he is charged under the criminal code when article 79 of the new press law, which has just taken effect, repeals ‘all previous laws that contradict this law from the day it takes effect’.”
Ben Saida’s detention, coming at time of mounting tension, was an alarming development for all those who defend freedom of expression. Reporters Without Borders fears that recent aggressive statements by government officials towards journalists is being interpreted by a sector of the population as grounds for the verbal and physical attacks they often receive from Salafist groups or ordinary citizens.
Reporters Without Borders is outraged by comments that human rights minister Samir Dilou made to the journalist Samir El-Wafi when he was a guest on Hannibal TV’s talk show Saraha Raha on 4 February. Referring to the magazine Gayday, Dilou said freedom of expression stops where homosexuality starts, and described homosexuality as an illness and a red line for religion.
Furthermore, during a meeting on 19 February in Bizerte organized by the ruling Ennahda party, of which he is a member, Dilou was scathing about journalists, accusing them of doing anything in order to “spend a night in prison and thereby erase their past and purge their sins.”
During an interview yesterday for the Watanya 1 TV channel, Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi urged the Tunisian journalists’ union to compile a blacklist of journalists and to denounce “those journalists who used to praise Ben Ali and now insult Ennahda and the government.”
These are shocking statements that will encourage more acts of intimidation against journalists from part of the population.
Reporters Without Borders has registered two attacks on TV crews this month. An Al-Hiwar Ettounsi TV crew was physically attacked, sustaining damage to its equipment, while covering a visit by Egyptian Salafist preacher Wajdi Ghanim to Mahdia on 14 February. Harassed by Salafists, the TV crew had to withdraw.
While covering a sit-in by former political prisoners outside the constituent assembly’s headquarters on 20 February, a Nessma TV crew was attacked by Salafists and ordinary citizens who decided to stop the crew from filming on the grounds the media cannot be trusted. Threatened verbally and then with knives, the crew fled and did not file a complaint for fear of reprisals.
The recent statements and the refusal to establish the entities envisaged by the broadcasting law and press law are fuelling the tension. As well as the High Independent Authority for Broadcasting Communication and the commission that is supposed to issue press cards, the government is also supposed to establish an office that will received copies of all publications and transfer them to the national documentation centre. If this is not done, records will be lost forever for historians.
Reporters Without Borders urges the Tunisian authorities to show respect and goodwill towards journalists, to guarantee their protection and to implement all the laws concerning the media.