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Tunisia journalists accuse state of intimidation

By AFP - Feb 16,2023 - Last updated at Feb 16,2023

TUNIS — Dozens of journalists and rights activists protested in the Tunisian capital on Thursday, accusing the state of “repression” and attempts to intimidate the media.

The protest, organised by the SNJT journalists’ union, came three days after police arrested NoureddineBoutar, the director of popular private radio station Mosaique FM.

The station has often been critical of President Kais Saied, who in 2021 sacked the government, froze parliament and seized almost total power in moves rivals have called a coup.

The demonstrators gathered outside government headquarters in Tunis, some wearing red tape across their mouths while others shouted “No to repression of journalists” and “We demand an independent free press”.

“The authorities want to bring both private and public media into line, and [Boutar’s] arrest is an attempt to intimidate the whole sector,” SNJT Director Mahdi Jlassi said at Thursday’s protest, which had been organised prior to Boutar’s arrest.

Police deployed heavily to prevent the demonstrators from gathering directly in front of the prime minister’s office.

Boutar is one of 10 public figures arrested since Saturday — mainly critics of Saied, including members of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha Party.

Since Saied’s power grab, several high-profile critics of the Tunisian leader have faced trial in military courts, but the latest wave of detentions sparked fears the president is escalating against his opponents in the crisis-hit birthplace of the 2011 Arab uprisings.

Boutar’s lawyers said he had appeared before a judge whose questioning focused Mosaique FM’s editorial line and criteria for choosing commentators. Journalists’ union chief Jlassi said authorities were “irked by the content of Mosaique FM’s programmes, but this repression will not affect the will of journalists to defend their freedom”.

The demonstration came a day after Tunisia’s main opposition coalition said the arrests were “violent and legally baseless”.

The powerful UGTT trade union federation said Saied’s government was trying to “snuff out every independent or opposition voice” by targeting the media.

It called on unions to “mobilise and prepare to defend the rights of Tunisians”.

The United States on Wednesday said it was “deeply concerned” by the spate of arrests.

“We respect the aspirations of the Tunisian people for an independent and transparent judiciary that is able to protect fundamental freedoms for all,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

 

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