Al Jazeera journalist arrested in Tunisia amid crackdown on freedom of press – The Guardian

Samir Sassi joins growing number of journalists imprisoned and prosecuted in country
Tunisian authorities have arrested an Al Jazeera reporter, the network’s bureau chief said on Thursday, as campaigners voiced concern over a growing number of journalists behind bars in the north African country.
“Samir Sassi, a journalist at the Al Jazeera office in Tunisia, was arrested after security forces raided his house,” said Lotfi Hajji, director of the Qatar-based television network’s bureau in Tunis.
He told AFP that police did not disclose the reasons for the arrest, late on Wednesday, nor where Sassi was being held. There was no official comment from Tunisian authorities.
Hajji said the security forces had also seized Sassi’s “computer, phone, and the phones of his wife and children”.
Al Jazeera’s Tunisia bureau has been closed since President Kais Saied’s swift power grab in July 2021, but the network’s journalists remained accredited and maintained their coverage in Tunisia. Authorities did not provide a reason for shutting down the bureau at the time.
Tunisia has come under criticism for a crackdown on freedom of speech, including the arrests of more than 30 journalists in 2023, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
In an open letter to Saied published on Thursday, the IFJ expressed its “deepest concern at the frequent imprisonment of journalists, in total contravention of the provisions of the Tunisian constitution in respect of freedom of expression and the media”.
It mentioned the case of the Tunisian journalist Zied el-Heni, who was arrested on 29 December after criticising the Tunisian commerce minister, Kalthoum Ben Rejeb, in a radio show he hosted.
Heni became well known during the 2011 uprising that ousted the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and set in motion what later came to be known as the Arab spring. He remains in detention, awaiting a trial scheduled for 10 January.
“Heni’s case is not an isolated one, but clearly indicates the existence of a systematic policy of instrumentalising legal procedures and the judicial system to systematically intimidate, bully and imprison journalists,” said the IFJ.
Last summer, the UN human rights chief, Volker Türk, said he was “deeply concerned” about the crackdown on media in Tunisia, with vaguely worded legislation used to criminalise criticism.
Seventeen journalists in Tunisia currently face trial, according to local media.
Heni and some other journalists have been prosecuted under the provisions of decree 54, which punishes those accused of spreading “false news” with a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The legislation “is being used to silence journalists and opponents of the president”, Anthony Bellanger, the general secretary of the IFJ, said earlier this week, accusing the Tunisian government of “attacking journalists”.