On 14 November at 11.00, when Nizar Bahloul, director of the online media Business News, on 14 November at 11.00 received a summons in which he was asked to report the same day at 15.00 to the criminal brigade in Gorjani (Tunis), did not think that reality was catching up with one of his columns. He, who in February wrote: “It looks like a joke, but we’re going straight there. After the assembly, the government and the judiciary, the media must also submit. He also did not believe that he was one of the first to live, therefore, to testify, to a proper hearing about an article of November 10 entitled: “Najla Bouden, the nice woman” and signed Raouf Well Hey.
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The text in question takes stock of the actions carried out by head of government Najla Bouden, who was appointed a year ago. It lists the facts, comments on them and highlights a certain immobility and, above all, the worsening of the situation in Tunisia, where daily life, between scarcity and the high cost of living, is becoming unbearable. Nothing that hasn’t already been said, written or conveyed by other media.
New law on cybercrime
However, this analysis appears to have disturbed, and Nizar Bahloul was summoned following a complaint by the Minister of Justice, Leïla Jaffel. We do not know the content, but those close to Business News, shocked by this practice, which is believed to have disappeared with Ben Ali, suggested that the authorities would charge the article with violating Legislative Decree 54 on cybercrime from September 2022. A text has for the purpose of protecting citizens from false information, but which above all blocks freedom of expression and thus freedom of the press. To journalists who warned of the risk of slippage, the authorities had assured that freedom of the press would be respected.
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That didn’t stop Nizar Bahloul from being heard for three hours, then waiting another hour for the prosecutor’s office to decide whether or not to release him. The decree-law clarifies that it concerns all false information that affects the prestige of the state and public security, and leaves the judge a power estimate of possible prosecutions. Thus, a press article that does not reveal backstage, no state secret, but presents a simple balance, because it is neither flattering nor laudatory, can lead to a commitment order. Enough to invalidate all comments about the guarantee of freedom of the press.
Bloggers have already heard
If Business News is the first major media to experience this new practice, bloggers like the one on the “Hay Ettadhamen” page have been heard under the same conditions in the previous weeks. Nizar Bahloul was released after his hearing, but the tone has been set: journalists are now in the crosshairs of the government, which, paradoxically, and moreover, does not give the media the means to work by simply refusing to communicate or inform the editors.
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The situation could be satisfied with being absurd, except that the law in force at any time and according to interpretations can criminalize journalism. As a result, the profession is not very reassured and is holding its breath while counting on a firm position taken by the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) so that this incident does not become an unfortunate precedent. But five days before the Francophonie summit, to be held in Djerba on November 19 and 20, he will surely challenge the guests on the preservation of freedoms in Tunisia, the only tangible achievement of a transition unfinished.