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Freedom of Expression
Home > Country focus > Tunisia > Freedom of expression in Tunisia in 2012

Freedom of expression in Tunisia in 2012

Tuesday 12 February 2013, by Un Ponte Per...

After Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, the country began to rewrite their constitution. The revolution has opened the door to the broadening of freedom of expression rights in the future and currently citizens enjoy a greater level of these freedoms. However, drafts published in 2012 failed to protect fundamental human rights and authorities have fallen back to using old tactics to quell journalists, bloggers, artists and critics under the guise of maintaining public order. Among the failings in drafts of the new constitution is a lack of plans for media freedom. IFEX writes that there is an ”increasing use of violence and threats against journalists, artists and writers by police and ultra-conservative groups, and the government’s failure to put an end to the impunity of those carrying out these attacks. Furthermore, members of the media are in the midst of an ongoing battle to safeguard the freedoms gained during the democratic transition period, after the revolution.” Individuals or groups who speak publically in a blasphemous manner or with anti-government sentiments receive no protection within Tunisia. Censorship of certain films and the Internet is also in practice. Numerous cases are present throughout 2012 showing the lack of freedom of expression permitted. Below are a few examples.

  • On 28 March two Tunisians, Ghazi Ben Mohamed and Jaber Ben Abdallah Majri, were sentenced to seven-and-a-half year prison terms for publishing writings perceived as offensive to Islam
  • On 9 April a series of attacks against journalists occurred while covering a Martyr’s Day protest.
  • On 3 May, Nabil Karoui was fined US$1,490 for broadcasting Persepolis, a film denounced as blasphemous, on his TV station

Details on 28 March arrests
Details on 9 April journalist attack
Details on 3 May Persepolis charge

Various sources on freedom of expression in Tunisia throughout 2012:

Human Right’s Watch- World Report 2013

Following the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, Tunisians elected a National Constituent Assembly (NCA) in October 2011 and entrusted its members with drafting a new constitution, to be followed by legislative and presidential elections. The Islamist party Al-Nahdha, which won a plurality of seats in the elections for the NCA, formed a governing coalition with Al-Mu’tamar min ajl al-Jumhuriyya party (Congress for the Republic) and the leftist Ettakatol party (Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties) to form a ruling coalition. At this writing, the NCA was debating a draft constitution, drafted by a group of six NCA committees, which upholds several key human rights and fundamental freedoms but also contains provisions that undermine women’s rights, as well as freedom of expression and of thought.

Tunisians enjoy a greater degree of freedom of assembly, expression, and association, and the right to form political parties than in the past. However, the consolidation of human rights protections was hampered by the failure to adopt reforms that would lead to a more independent judiciary, attempts by the executive branch to exert control over the media, the prosecution of speech offenses, and the failure of the authorities to investigate and prosecute physical assaults against individuals attributed to fundamentalist groups.

Freedom of Expression and Media

Decree-law 115-2011 on the print media, and decree-law 116-2012 on the broadcast media had not yet been fully implemented at this writing. Decree-law 116 requires the creation of an independent high authority to regulate broadcast media. The interim government refused to implement the decree-law and continued to unilaterally appoint the heads of public media. In June, Al-Nahdha deputies in the NCA submitted a draft bill that would amend the penal code by imposing prison terms and fines for broadly worded offenses such as insulting or mocking the “sanctity of religion.” The courts made wide use of repressive provisions of the penal code inherited from the Ben Ali era, s uch as article 121 (3), which makes it an offense to distribute material “liable to cause harm to the public order or public morals.”

In September, a public prosecutor brought charges against two sculptors for artworks deemed harmful to public order and good morals. On March 28, in the first instance of a tribunal run by the city of Mahdia, two bloggers were sentenced to prison terms of seven-and-a-half years, confirmed on appeal, for publishing writings perceived as offensive to Islam. On May 3, Nabil Karoui, the owner of the television station Nessma TV, was fined 2,300 dinars (US$1,490) for broadcasting the animated film Persepolis, denounced as blasphemous by some Islamists. On March 8, Nasreddine Ben Saida, publisher of the newspaper Attounssia, was fined 1,000 dinars ($623) for publishing a photo of a football star embracing his naked girlfriend.

In addition, a military tribunal sentenced Ayoub Massoudi, former advisor to interim President Moncef Marzouki, to a suspended prison term of four months for the crime of impugning the reputation of the army under article 91 of the code of military justice, and for defaming a civil servant, because he accused the army chief-of-staff and the minister of defense of dereliction of duty for failing to inform Marzouki in a timely manner of the plan to extradite former Libya Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmoudi to Libya.

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