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Tunisian journalist detained for critical comment

September 13, 2013

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A journalist has been detained in Tunisia for questioning the government’s case against a TV cameraman, a lawyer said Friday.

Since the uprising that overthrew Tunisia’s dictator in January 2011, journalists have repeatedly run afoul of laws banning defamation of government employees, and that has set off a debate about freedom of speech in the North African country.

Journalist Zied el-Heni was detained for allegedly defaming a civil servant by saying on the private Nessma TV channel that he has evidence that the case was fabricated against cameraman Mourad Meherzi, who was arrested for filming the egging of a minister.

El-Heni’s lawyer, Moufida Belghith, said the detention order was issued without hearing her client’s side of the story. El-Heni said on TV that the prosecutor himself should be charged for detaining someone without basis.

Meherzi, the cameraman, was accused of being part of a plot against Culture Minister Mehdi Mabrouk and detained for two weeks after he filmed him getting egged. The journalist was released on bail.

In a statement Friday, Human Rights Watch criticized a rash of attacks on freedom of speech, referring to cases against at least two other journalists and an activist.

“Judicial authorities are resorting again and again to the same articles in the penal code as a repressive tool against free speech,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East and North Africa for the group. “Instead of trying to silence critics, the government should look into their allegations, and fix the laws from the old repressive government that criminalize criticism of public figures.”

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