Tunisia: Rights groups call on President Kais Saied to respect free expression and the press

The undersigned Tunisian human rights organizations express their deep concern about current restrictions on journalists in Tunisia, denying them the right to perform their professional duties, and threatening freedom of expression and the press. These actions violate the Tunisian Constitution and conflict with the intent of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by the Tunisian Republic. They also harm Tunisia’s reputation abroad.

The undersigned organizations condemn the attacks, harassment, and threats carried out in July by a number of security personnel against journalists and correspondents of Arab and International press institutions, as well as activists and demonstrators affiliated with political parties and populist groups. They also condemn the storming of Al-Jazeera’s office in Tunis by security agents on July 26, regardless of the editorial line of the Qatar-based station, which is biased in favor of the Islamist Ennahda Party.

Our country arrived at a delicate and uncommon juncture on Republic Day (25 July), with the eruption of widespread protests against the deterioration in the social, economic, health, and political situation, unseen since Tunisia’s independence. Given President Kais Saied’s controversial and disturbing interpretation of Article 80 of the Constitution, to control both Executive and Legislative branches, we call on him to be more careful in respecting the right to freedom of expression, the press, and access to information, in order to protect Tunisia from sinking to the level of failed and oppressive Arab States.

The undersigned organizations understand the legitimacy of combating the spread of false news, and protecting the security and stability of the country. However, they firmly believe that this should not be used as an excuse to threaten journalists and attack freedom of expression and the press, which are some of the major gains that Tunisian men and women achieved since the Revolution, and which should be preserved.

The undersigned organizations reiterate their concern about such attacks on freedom of expression, and express solidarity with journalist Mohamed Youssefi, who was recently targeted by a wave of threats for raising concerns over the behind the scenes political manoeuvring and use of blackmail by the governing authorities. The organizations remind President Saied to keep in mind that democracy cannot be built without respect for the right to freedom of expression and the press. Reforming the democratic process will be doomed to failure if Tunisians are muzzled and journalists are denied the right to ethically and professionally do their job.

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Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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