New York, January 2, 2024—Tunisian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Zied el-Heni and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On December 28, police arrested el-Heni, a prominent columnist and political commentator for the daily “Émission Impossible” show on the independent radio station IFM, after he responded to a summons for questioning, according to news reports and a journalist familiar with the case who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
On Monday, the Tunisian Court of First Instance charged el-Heni with “insulting others on social media,” and ordered that he be detained in Mornaguia prison, 20 km (12 miles) west of the capital, Tunis, pending trial, those sources said. The charges stem from the show’s December 28 episode in which el-Heni criticized the performance of the Minister of Commerce Kalthoum Ben Rejeb, they added.
“Arresting independent journalist Zied el-Heni for providing political commentary on the radio is simply cruel and shows that President Kaies Saied’s government does not respect press freedom,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour in Washington, D.C. “Tunisian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release el-Heni, drop all charges against him, and allow journalists to work freely without fear of imprisonment.”
The next hearing in el-Heni’s trial is scheduled for January 10 and he could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty, according to Tunisia’s Business News and the journalist familiar with the case.
El-Heni was previously arrested on June 20 for allegedly insulting the president on the same radio show. He was released on June 22 and that trial is ongoing, the anonymous journalist told CPJ.
CPJ emailed the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Commerce for comment on el-Heni’s case but did not receive any response.