Radio journalist’s imprisonment is symptomatic of press freedom decline in Tunisia

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of a prominent Tunisian radio journalist who has been held for the past two weeks for allegedly defaming a religious affairs ministry official by criticising the frequency of her official trips abroad. This journalist’s detention is totally disproportionate, RSF says.

A political commentator with privately-owned Cap FM radio, Mohamed Boughalleb was arrested on 22 March and was placed in pre-trial detention after four days in police custody in response to a complaint by the official concerned.

One of the few journalists still daring to speak out in Tunisia, Boughalleb was unable to appear in court on 3 April because he has been hospitalised as a result of falling ill since his arrest, the National Union of Tunisian Journalists said. He is facing a possible two-year prison sentence and a fine of between 100 and 1,000 dinars  (30 and 300 euros) on a criminal defamation charge.

“The jailing of Mohamed Boughalleb is worrying. It confirms that the Tunisian authorities no longer allow journalists do their job and raise legitimate questions about the way government officials use public funds. The tendency to resort to imprisonment is a clear threat aimed at those who fully assume their role as journalists. We deplore the shocking decline in respect for press freedom and call for Boughalleb’s immediate release.

Khaled Drareni
RSF’s North Africa representative

Boughalleb’s brother, the lawyer Jamel Eddine Boughalleb, told RSF that his brother was being subjected to harassment that had no legal basis.

“We refuse to allow the judiciary to become a tool used by those in power to silence media professionals by means of baseless accusations with no other objective than intimidation,” the lawyer said. “This is unfortunately happening in Tunisia and it is morally and legally reprehensible.”

It was religious affairs minister Ibrahim Chaïbi himself who sued Boughalleb in the spring of 2023 after Boughalleb reported that a car confiscated by the authorities that was supposed to be a customs pound was in fact being used by the minister as his official car. A court dismissed the complaint. 

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