New York, March 21, 2022 – Tunisian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Khalifa Guesmi and stop intimidating journalists into revealing their sources, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On March 17, Guesmi, a correspondent at local independent radio station and news website Mosaique FM, published an article about the dismantling of a terrorist group in the southern city of Kairouan, according to Mosaique FM’s statement and CPJ’s review of the article, which has since been removed from Mosaique FM’s website but is still available on other local outlets.
On March 18, the counterterrorism investigation unit of the Tunisian National Police in the capital Tunis summoned Guesmi for questioning over the article, according to a statement by the radio station, news reports, and Fahim Boukaddous, executive director of the local trade union National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
The unit questioned Guesmi for nine hours and ordered him to reveal his sources, which he refused, citing Counterterrorism Law No. 26 of 2015 which gives journalists immunity from prosecution if they refuse to reveal their sources when reporting on terrorism, according to Boukaddous and news reports. Later the same day, the state prosecutor accused Guesmi of having ties with a terrorist group, and ordered his detention for 5 days pending investigation, according to Mosaique FM’s statement, and Boukaddous.
“Tunisian authorities should immediately release journalist Khalifa Guesmi and stop pressuring journalists to reveal their sources, especially in light of the law granting journalists the right to protect their sources when reporting on terrorism,” said Justin Shilad, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa senior researcher. “Authorities must also allow all members of the press to work freely without fear of detention or intimidation.”
On March 21, the counterterrorism investigation unit continued its investigation into Guesmi, and the state prosecutor upheld their 5-day-detention order, Boukaddous told CPJ, adding that the journalist is currently held at the al-Aouina detention center in Tunis.
CPJ emailed Tunisia’s Ministry of Interior for comment but did not receive an immediate response.
On July 25, 2021, Tunisian President Kais Saied fired Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and froze parliament’s activities indefinitely amid anti-government protests, according to news reports. Since then, the press freedom climate in the country has deteriorated significantly, as CPJ has documented.