Tunisia's Journalists and Lawyers Detained Amid Political Crisis

Tunisia’s Journalists and Lawyers Detained Amid Political Crisis

Tunisia’s public prosecutor has extended the detention of two journalists, while lawyers have initiated a one-day strike to protest against the arrest of a prominent critic of President Kais Saied, amid a deepening political crisis in the country.

The detention of Sonia Dahmani, a lawyer known for her outspoken criticism of President Saied, sparked outrage after Tunisian police stormed the building of the lawyers’ deanship to arrest her on Saturday.

In a separate incident on the same day, Mourad Zghidi and Borhen Bsaiss, journalists from IFM radio, were also arrested over comments made on radio and social media, according to their legal representatives.

Mohamed Zitouna, the public prosecutor’s spokesman, stated that the detention of both Zghidi and Bsaiss was related to a defamation offense, although he did not provide further details.

Dozens of lawyers gathered on Monday in front of the courtroom where Dahmani’s case was expected to be heard, chanting slogans such as: “What a shame, the lawyers and the judiciary are under siege.”

The public prosecutor’s spokesman clarified that the charges against Dahmani were unrelated to her work as a lawyer, but did not elaborate further.

Dahmani’s arrest came after she commented on a television program last week, describing Tunisia as a country where life was unpleasant, in response to a speech by President Saied, who alleged a conspiracy to encourage thousands of undocumented migrants from Sub-Saharan countries to remain in Tunisia.

On Sunday, hundreds of protesters assembled in the Tunisian capital, demanding the release of imprisoned journalists, activists, and opposition figures, as well as the scheduling of a fair presidential election.

President Saied came to power after free elections in 2019 but later assumed additional powers in 2021 by shutting down the elected parliament and ruling by decree, citing the need to end years of chaos and corruption. This move was labeled a coup by the opposition, a claim Saied refutes, asserting that his actions are legal and intended to hold all responsible for corruption accountable, regardless of their status or political allegiance.

The recent protests occur against a backdrop of economic and political turmoil, with a wave of arrests targeting journalists, lawyers, activists, and political opponents. Many opposition leaders, including Abir Moussa of the Free Constitutional Party and Rached Ghannouchi of the Islamist Ennahdha Party, have been in prison for months on various charges, along with other leaders accused of conspiring against state security.

“Lawyers and journalists are pillars of freedom and they face ongoing restrictions now. Journalists and lawyers are being tried today only for their opinions,” said Amira Mohamed, an official at the National Journalists Syndicate.

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