TUNIS (Reuters) – A Tunisian journalist said on Tuesday that police had started investigating him over a critical report about on the prime minister, raising fears among journalists and politicians that the authorities are targeting the press freedom and trying to silence free voices.
Nizar Bahloul, the editor in chief of the online Business News website, became the first journalist to be probed under a law imposing prison terms of up to 10 years for spreading false information or rumors online.
The law imposed by President Kais Saied in September, faced widespread criticism from journalists and activists and is widely seen as an attempt to silence free speech.
Saied had said he would uphold the rights and freedoms won by Tunisians in a 2011 revolution that brought democracy after his moves last year to seize most powers and shut down the elected parliament, a move described by opponents as a coup.
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This week, Bahloul published an analysis under the title, “Najla Bouden, the gentlewoman” in which he criticized the prime minister’s political and economic performance.
Bahloul said that the police asked him about phrases and words in his critical report.
The main journalists’ union strongly criticized the investigation of Bahloul, saying that “authorities are trying to attack freedom of the press and to intimidate journalists”.
Since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, press freedom has been a key gain for Tunisians. Its media has become one of the most open of any Arab state, with even the state-owned news agency frequently reporting criticism of the authorities.
However, politicians, journalists and unions say that press freedom faces a serious threat under the rule of Saied, who has rejected such accusations, saying he will not become a dictator.
The Free Constitutional Party leader Abir Moussi, a supporter of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali said in a statement that authorities are seeking to punish journalists and tend to suppress freedoms.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Alistair Bell)
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