Police officers argue with journalists demonstrating against the newly appointed chief executive of the Tunis Afrique Presse news agency at the agency's headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, on April 13, 2021. (AFP/Fethi Belaid)

Tunisian police raid TAP news agency to enforce appointment of pro-government director

New York, April 14, 2021 — Tunisian authorities should respect the independence of the state news agency Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP), and refrain from using security forces to interfere in the agency’s personnel issues, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, police officers forcibly entered TAP’s headquarters in Tunis, the capital, to break up a protest by journalists against the appointment of Kamel Ben Younes, a journalist and government ally, as the news agency’s new director, according to news reports and Olfa Habbouba, president of the independent trade union the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists’ branch in TAP, who spoke with CPJ over the phone.

TAP journalists began protesting Ben Younes’ appointment on April 6, saying that he endangered the independence of the news agency, according to news reports. Police officers escorted Ben Younes to the TAP director’s office, Habbouba said, adding that while Ben Younes was officially in place as the agency’s director, journalists’ protests continued as of today.

No journalists were harmed or detained during the police action, Habbouba said.

“The Tunisian government must ensure the independence of the press sector and refrain from using the country’s security forces to enforce contested personnel decisions,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Senior Researcher Justin Shilad. “Authorities should never have stormed the Tunis Afrique Presse news agency’s headquarters in Tunis, which sets a terrible precedent for police interference in the free press.”

Hichem Mechichi, the Tunisian head of government, removed journalist Mouna Mtibaa as the director of TAP on April 5, and appointed Ben Youssef, according to news reports. TAP is a state-run news agency that is editorially independent from the government, according to Habbouba.

On April 8, local civil society groups, including the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists and the Tunisian General Labor Union, denounced the appointment and called for a general strike on April 22 if the government does not reverse its decision, according to news reports.

On April 12, Mechichi said that he would not reconsider his decision because the director of the state’s news agency is “appointed and not elected,” reports said.

CPJ emailed the Tunisian office of the presidency and Mtibaa for comment, but did not receive any replies. CPJ contacted Ben Younes via messaging app for comment, but he did not immediately respond.