Geneva - The Tunisian military court’s decision to imprison journalist Saleh Attia for three months on vague and false charges is unfair, biased, and deeply concerning, Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement. People should not be tried for expressing opposing and critical opinions.
The imprisonment of Attia, the owner and editor of the local newspaper “rayaljadid,” is entirely consistent with the Tunisian authorities' crackdown on freedoms, which began in July 2021, when President Kais Saied announced the exceptional measures.
The measures include detaining journalists and opponents, imposing travel bans on political and judicial figures, and closing local and international Arab media offices.
On the evening of Tuesday, 16 August, the military tribunal of the Tunisian permanent court-martial decided to imprison Attia on charges of harming the national army's dignity and reputation, acting in a way that undermines the military system and diminishes the army's obedience to superiors, accusing a public official of illegal behaviour without providing sufficient evidence, and offending others through the public telecommunications network.
The court issued its decision in accordance with the provisions of articles (91) of the Code of Military Procedures and Penalties, (128) of the Penal Code, and (86) of the Communications Code, according to the journalist's lawyer.
Attia was convicted and sentenced to one month in prison for accusing a public official of illegal behaviour; he was sentenced to two months for harming the national army's dignity.
On 10 June 2022, Attia appeared on Al-Jazeera and said that the Tunisian army refused to carry out President Kais Saied's orders to close the offices of the Tunisian General Labour Union, which the union later denied. He also claimed that the army refused the president's request to place several political officials in the country under house arrest.
Tunisian security arrested Attia the day after his television appearance, and a military judge ordered his detention on remand two days later.
Nour Olwan, Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Media Officer, said, “Even if we assume that Saleh Attia's statements were inaccurate, treating the situation with a military trial and imprisonment can only be interpreted as an arbitrary use of the law to retaliate against journalists and opponents, as well as a clear message of intimidation to civil society as a whole.”
“Law enforcement and justice officials' efforts should not be focused on how to use the law to crack down on dissidents and journalists, but on how to protect their rights to freedom of publication, criticism, and expression,” Olwan added.
Euro-Med Monitor expressed grave concern about the escalation of attacks on freedom of expression, opinion, and publication in Tunisia following the approval of the new constitution by President Kais Saied, which included provisions that undermine freedoms, harm the democratic structure of the state, and give the president broad power, particularly in the judiciary.
The Tunisian president's behaviour since the announcement of the exceptional measures raises serious concerns that he will use the new constitution to legitimize and escalate the campaign against critics and opponents, as he has largely sought to control the judiciary, indicating intentions to use it to undermine critical voices and retaliate against opponents.
Euro-Med Monitor confirmed in a report co-published with Journalists for Human Rights last May that the exceptional measures set the stage for attacks on journalists, limiting their work and bringing them before military courts.
The detailed report states that journalists and local and international Arab media outlets in Tunisia were subjected to a variety of attacks, including repression, arbitrary detention, harassment, and restrictive decisions.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, which is in charge of interpreting the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, ratified by Tunisia in 1983, stated that the work of military courts should be limited to crimes of a purely military nature committed by military personnel, and that military courts should never have jurisdiction over civilians.
Tunisian authorities must release Saleh Attia immediately and unconditionally, reverse the policy of targeting journalists and dissidents and stop using the law to silence opposition and critical voices.
President Kais Saied should abandon his exclusionary policy and call for a national dialogue involving all political and societal forces to end the country's political crisis and ensure a return to the democratic path.