Ahead of the trial on 10 January of prominent independent journalist Zied El-Heni who has been arbitrarily detained since 28 December 2023 for “insulting” a Tunisian government minister on a radio show, Fida Hammami, Amnesty International’s Tunisia Research and Advocacy Advisor, said:
“Tunisian authorities persist in their chilling disregard for freedom of expression by punishing yet another person simply for criticizing government officials. It is profoundly shameful that Zied El-Heni is behind bars and, if convicted, could face two years in prison and a fine solely for his critical political commentary. He is one of dozens of individuals who have been arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted by Tunisian authorities since President Kais Saied’s power grab in July 2021 simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
“Tunisian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Zied El-Heni and drop all charges against him as they stem solely from the exercise of his human rights. As Tunisian people are commemorating the 12th anniversary of the revolution, authorities continue to crackdown on freedom of expression in the country. Instead of prosecuting journalists for expressing their views the authorities should uphold the hard-earned right to freedom of expression and end reprisals against criticism and dissent.”
Zied El-Heni is a prominent journalist and political commentator on a daily morning radio show on the independent radio station IFM. He was summoned by the police on 28 December 2023, shortly after he criticized the Minister of Commerce’s performance on air. The Tunis Court of First Instance General Prosecutor ordered his detention the same day under Article 24 of Decree Law 54, a draconian cybercrime decree-law that grants the authorities wide-ranging powers to crackdown on freedom of expression.
On 1 January 2024, the General Prosecutor charged El-Heni under Article 86 of the Telecommunications Code for “using the telecommunications network to insult others”, which is punishable by up to two years of imprisonment and a fine. The prosecutor also ordered his pre-trial detention.
Zied El-Heni underwent questioning by the police at least three times in connection to his remarks. He still faces separate charges related to comments he made in January 2023 on the radio show concerning President Kais Saied.
Amnesty International has documented the deterioration of the human rights situation in Tunisia since President Kais Saied’s power grab in July 2021. Since then, at least 40 people have been investigated or prosecuted merely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, some of them have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. The charges against them include “insulting” the authorities or “spreading fake news,” which are not recognized offences under international law.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Amnesty International.