RSF hails Tunisian reporter’s release after six months in prison, calls for his acquittal

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes radio journalist Khalifa Guesmi’s release after Tunisia’s highest court quashed his conviction and five-year prison sentence for a story about a terrorist cell, and calls for his acquittal when his case is retried.

After being held for the past six months, Guesmi was welcomed by a crowd of friends, family members and fellow journalists when he emerged from Mornaguia prison, 15 km southwest of the capital, Tunis, at around 10 p.m. yesterday (6 March), following the Court of Cassation’s decision earlier in the day.

The court overturned Guesmi’s May 2023 conviction by a Tunis appeal court and ordered the case reheard by an appeal court chamber with a new set of judges. No date has so far been set for the retrial.

“We welcome journalist Khalifa Guesmi’s release following the Court of Cassation decision to quash his grossly unjust five-year prison sentence and, as he never had any real case to answer, we hope this decision will be followed by his acquittal. Guesmi should never have been jailed and his fight for a free and independent press in Tunisia should be recognised and praised.

Khaled Drareni
RSF’s North Africa representative

“I have always kept my head held high because I committed no crime,” Guesmi told the reporters waiting for him outside the prison. “I never asked for immunity, I just asked for the law to be applied correctly. All I did was write a news story, for which I should never have been subjected to the anti-terrorism law. I spent six months in prison, far from my family and my colleagues. I followed the solidarity campaign waged on my behalf and I thank everyone.”

A reporter for privately-owned radio Mosaïque FM and previously a reporter for the daily newspaper Chourouk and the TV channels Attessia TV and Carthage+, the 48-year-old journalist has always distinguished himself by his coverage of societal issues and his investigative reporting on security matters.

Guesmi is accused of “disclosing information in violation of the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Law and Penal Code” in a story he wrote for the Mosaïque FM website in March 2022 about the dismantling of a terrorist cell in his hometown, Kairouan.

After his lawyers demonstrated the spurious nature of this charge, it was clear that the authorities were persecuting him simply for refusing to reveal his sources. He was nonetheless sentenced to a year in prison at his initial trial in November 2022, although the court did not order his immediate detention.

In an astonishingly draconian decision, the Tunis appeal court increased the sentence to five years in prison on appeal on May 2023. After spending four months in hiding in Kairouan, Guesmi was finally arrested on 3 September 2023 and was taken to Mornaguia prison to begin serving the sentence.

In December, three months after his arrest, RSF learned that he was being mistreated in prison. He was being subjected to verbal abuse by guards, held in cells containing dozens of detainees and even forced to share his bed with two or three other inmates. He was also constantly subjected to other forms of abuses such as being made to wait for hours before seeing his wife during her weekly visit. 


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