A police officer is seen in Tunis, Tunisia, on July 29, 2021. Police recently arrested journalist Ghassen Ben Khelifa in Tunis. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

Tunisian authorities arrest journalist Ghassen Ben Khelifa for alleged terrorism

New York, September 7, 2022–Tunisian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Ghassen Ben Khelifa and cease detaining members of the press on vague national security grounds, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, September 6, state security officers arrested Ben Khelifa, editor-in-chief of the local independent newspaper Inhiyez, at his home in Tunis, after raiding his home and confiscating his laptops and electronic devices, according to news reports.

On Wednesday, Tunisia’s counterterrorism authorities accused the journalist of terrorism-related offenses, but did not disclose the specific reason for his arrest, according to news reports and Khawla Chabbeh, coordinator of the documentation and monitoring unit of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists, a local trade union, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

Authorities ordered Ben Khelifa to be held in pretrial detention for five days, after which his detention could continue to be renewed, according to those reports and Chabbeh.

“By arresting journalist Ghassen Ben Khelifa on vague terrorism allegations, Tunisian President Kais Saied’s government is once again demonstrating its dedication to cracking down on the free press,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Tunisian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Ben Khelifa and ensure that journalists can do their work without fear of detention.”

Ben Khelifa covers local politics and writes political features for Inhyiez, according to CPJ’s review of his work. Most recently, he published an opinion article criticizing the country’s July constitutional referendum, saying it was too vague and did not match the needs of people in the country.

Ben Khelifa is also a human rights advocate and writes about such issues on his Facebook page, where he has about 10,000 followers.

CPJ emailed the Tunisian Ministry of Interior for comment, but did not receive any response.