The Tunisia bar association headquarters in Tunis following a police raid days earlier, on May 14, 2024. Authorities detained journalist Houssem Hajlaoui that same day amid a wave of arrests targeting civil society figures, political activists, and the media. (Photo: AFP/ Fethi Belaid)

Tunisia police arrest journalist Houssem Hajlaoui over social media posts amid crackdown

New York, May 20, 2024 — The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Tunisian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Houssem Hajlaoui, co-founder and publisher of local independent news website Inkyfada, who was arrested over social media posts from 2020-2023.

“CPJ is deeply concerned after Tunisian police arrested journalist Houssem Hajlaoui over old social media posts and condemns President Kais Saied’s government for its continuous targeting of journalists and civil society figures in the country,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna. “Tunisian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Hajlaoui and all detained journalists and allow the press to work freely without fear of arrest.”

On May 14, authorities arrested Hajlaoui at a police station in the capital, Tunis, after he was summoned for questioning regarding his social media posts published from  2020-2023 about police brutality and Tunisian politics, according to news reports, a radio interview with his lawyer Ayoub Ghadmassi, and a local journalist who is following the case and spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

On Friday, May 17, a court ordered his transfer pending trial to Mornaguia prison, 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of Tunis, according to those sources.

The journalist following the case told CPJ that Hajlaoui was arrested because of his reporting on social media and his involvement with independent news outlets. Inkyfada is one of the last remaining independent investigative journalism outlets in Tunisia.

Hajlaoui’s arrest comes amid a wave of arrests that began earlier this month, targeting civil society figures, political activists, and the media, including at least 5 journalists. While two have been released, journalists Sonia Dahmani, Borhen Bssais, and Mourad Zghidi remain in detention, the local journalist told CPJ.

CPJ’s email to the Tunisian Ministry of Interior regarding Hajlaoui’s arrest did not receive a response.