Tunisian journalist jailed for filming attack on official

New York, August 29, 2013–Tunisian authorities should release a journalist and drop charges against him for allegedly conspiring to commit violence against a government official, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Mourad Meherzi, a photographer for the local online TV channel Astrolabe, could face up to five years in jail, according to news reports.

Police arrested Meherzi at his home on August 18. Two days earlier, the journalist had videotaped a film director, Nasreddine Shili, throwing eggs at Mehdi Mabrouk, the Tunisian minister of culture. The journalist was on assignment to film the event, a commemoration of the death of a Tunisian artist, Astrolabe reported.

A prosecutor accused Meherzi of collaborating with Shili to film the attack and on August 23 charged him under Article 120 of the penal code, which calls for up to five years’ imprisonment for “conspiring to commit violence against a government official,” according to the Tunis Center for Press Freedom. Shili has also been imprisoned, news reports said. Meherzi’s trial begins on September 5.

Meherzi’s arrest runs counter to government decree No. 115, issued in 2011, that guarantees that journalists can operate freely in Tunisia without risk of imprisonment.

“The Tunisian government should drop all charges against Mourad Meherzi and release him immediately,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Meherzi’s arrest only emphasizes the tendency of authorities to abuse or ignore legislation that was intended to protect the democratic gains of Tunisia’s revolution.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists signed a joint statement today with Reporters Without Borders, the Tunis Center for Press Freedom, the Tunisian National Union of Journalists, and U.K.-based free expression group Article 19, calling for Meherzi’s immediate release.

Astrolabe’s manager, Ahmed Amin, began waging a hunger strike on August 21 to protest Meherzi’s imprisonment, according to a statement on the channel’s official Facebook page. Several journalists and human rights defenders have pledged to support Amin’s hunger strike in solidarity with Meherzi and Shili, Astrolabe reported.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Nasreddine Shili’s name.