Tunisian radio station director’s arrest sends harsh message to media
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demands the immediate release of a Tunisian radio station director, who has been held for the past four days without any explanation from the authorities, and calls on the Tunisian government to end its increasing authoritarianism.
Noureddine Boutar, the director of Mosaïque FM, Tunisia’s leading privately-owned radio station, was arrested in Tunis, the capital, on 13 February by security personnel, who searched his home and took him to the counter-terrorism brigade’s headquarters in the district of El Gorjani.
Boutar’s arrest was revealed by his lawyer, Dalila Ben Mbarek Msadek, who said the authorities had provided no explanation. The security services arrested several political activists, former judges and an influential businessman the same day.
“Noureddine Boutar’s arrest is a forceful message to the media from the authorities,” said Khaled Drareni, RSF’s North Africa representative. “Its goal is to terrorise and subjugate journalists, and to send them back to the era of the Ben Ali dictatorship. This growing authoritarianism, previously signalled and now amply confirmed, must be strongly condemned, and Noureddine Boutar must be released at once.”
His arrest, the latest development in a crackdown that began months ago, has stunned and angered Tunisia’s journalists and media. In a press release on 14 February, Mosaïque FM voiced “astonishment” at its director’s arrest and condemned the intimidation and smear campaign to which the radio station and all of its staff have been subjected.
The Tunisian Federation of Newspaper Directors (FTDJ) also condemned his arrest, calling for his release and expressing its “concern about the status of the media and communication sector in Tunisia.” The National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) organised a “day of anger” sit-in outside government headquarters on Kasbah Square on 16 February. Voicing alarm about the attacks on press freedom and the sustainability of the media, SNJT president Mehdi Jelassi said, “this battle for survival requires everyone’s commitment.”
Respect for rights and freedoms in general, and press freedom in particular, has declined steadily in Tunisia since Kais Saied became president in 2019. After freezing parliamentary activities, Saied assumed full powers in July 2021, suspended parliament altogether in March 2022, and oversaw the adoption of a new constitution in July 2022 despite strong abstention.
RSF has been calling for the repeal of a September 2022 decree-law criminalising “false news,” which has been the subject of serious and legitimate concerns both within the media and in society as a whole.
Tunisia is ranked 94th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.