New York, August 29, 2012--The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about an arrest warrant issued against the head of a Tunisian television station, whose news and programming are often seen as critical of the current government.
A court in Tunis, the capital, issued the warrant on Friday for Sami Fehri, founder of the private television station Ettounsiya TV, which was launched after the 2011 revolution, according to news reports. Fehri, who had close ties to the former regime of ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, is seen as a critic of the current government, news reports said. The warrant follows the suspension last week of Fehri's satirical TV show on Ettounsiya TV, whose news coverage is also often seen as critical of the government, news reports said. The show, Ellogique Essiyassi (Political Logic), features puppets of prominent politicians from the ruling Ennahda party, the reports said.
Fehri is also general director of the media production company Cactus Productions. Authorities have charged Fehri with improperly using government funds to create Cactus Productions during an unspecified time in the 1990s, according to news reports. Fehri's partner at the time was Belhassen Trabelsi, brother-in-law of then-President Ben Ali. The charge, filed under Article 96 of the penal code, carries a 10-year prison term, the reports said. The journalist has not been arrested yet, news reports said.
In an interview with a local radio station, Fehri said he believed the charges were in reprisal for his satirical show and said he had received a phone call from Lotfi Zitoun, the prime minister's adviser, who expressed dissatisfaction with the TV outlet. Zitoun denied Fehri's claim that his arrest warrant was politically motivated. "Fehri was arrested because of his involvement with financial corruption cases," news reports quoted the adviser as saying.
"Given the timing of these charges against Sami Fehri, we believe they are politically motivated," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.
The National Union of Tunisian Journalists issued a statement on Saturday condemning the arrest warrant against Fehri as a "serious intervention of the government in media affairs."
These actions follow recent appointments of new heads of media outlets over the past several months, the latest of which occurred on August 23, according to news reports. The union has said the government is attempting to place its sympathizers in powerful positions in order to control state-run media coverage, according to news reports.
An employee with Ettounsiya TV has also been targeted. Early Sunday, a group of unidentified men on motorcycles assaulted Slim Trabelsi (no relation to Belhassen Trabelsi), a cameraman for the station, in a dark alley, according to news reports. The assailants used Sami Fehri's name and said, "We will catch you one by one," the reports said. Trabelsi suffered bruises in the attack and sought treatment at a hospital after filing a police complaint, news reports said.
- For more data and analysis on Tunisia, visit CPJ's Tunisia page here.