A Tunisian court sentenced journalist Mohamed Boughalleb, a virulent critic of President Kaïs Saïed, to six months in prison on Wednesday April 17, arrested almost a month ago after a defamation complaint from a civil servant, we learned Agence France-Presse with his brother and lawyer, Mounir Boughalleb.

The journalist, a well-known figure in the audiovisual sector, was arrested on March 22 after the complainant, a head of department within the Ministry of Religious Affairs, accused him of having “undermined her honor and reputation.” on social networks and in the media. In a publication on his Facebook page and on the air of a private radio station, Mr. Boughalleb asked for explanations on the interest of this official in traveling abroad with the Minister of Religious Affairs. Mr. Boughalleb denounced a form of “corruption and waste of public money”.

While he was absent for health reasons during a first hearing last week, the journalist, who suffers from diabetes and heart problems, appeared before the judge on Wednesday. For one of his lawyers, Jalel Hammami, “Mohamed Boughalleb is paying for having exercised his freedom of expression. What’s happening to him is a shame.” By prosecuting him, “the attorney general applied political instructions,” adds another member of his defense committee, the lawyer and former minister Mohamed Abbou.

Around twenty journalists prosecuted

For Zied Dabbar, president of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), “this affair is only a new attempt intended to intimidate journalists and silence them by exploiting the state apparatus.”

“The detention of Mohamed Boughalleb is worrying. It confirms that the Tunisian authorities no longer accept that journalists do their work and raise legitimate questions about the use of public funds by political leaders,” laments Khaled Drareni, representative of the organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in North Africa. Denouncing a “terrible regression in press freedom”, Mr. Drareni believes that “the tendency to resort to imprisonment is a threat clearly addressed to those who fully assume their role as journalists”.

Mr. Boughalleb is known for his criticism of the political class and President Saïed, as well as for his investigative work in corruption cases. According to the SNJT, around twenty journalists are currently the subject of legal proceedings. Local and international NGOs have warned of a decline in freedoms in Tunisia since President Saïed assumed full powers on July 25, 2021.