Global perspective Human stories

Tunisia must ‘change course’ amid media crackdown: UN rights chief

The UN is expressing concern about increasing restrictions on press freedom in Tunisia.
UN News/Daniel Johnson
The UN is expressing concern about increasing restrictions on press freedom in Tunisia.

Tunisia must ‘change course’ amid media crackdown: UN rights chief

Human Rights

In Tunisia, “vague” legislation is being used to criminalize independent journalism and suppress criticism of the Government, UN rights chief Volker Türk said on Friday.

“It is troubling to see Tunisia, a country that once held so much hope, regressing and losing the human rights gains of the last decade,” Mr. Türk said, urging the country to “change course”.

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) said that over the past three months, the Tunisian authorities have used security and counter-terrorism legislation as well as a presidential decree on cybercrimes, to arrest and convict six journalists for spreading “false news, information or rumours”.

Civil and military prosecutions

 Since July 2021, OHCHR has documented 21 cases of alleged human rights violations against journalists, including prosecutions before civilian and military courts, likely initiated to counter criticism of the authorities. 

 Under international human rights law all public figures including heads of State may legitimately be subject to criticism.

 “People have the right to be informed and to do so, journalists must be able to do their job without any undue restriction,” Mr. Türk insisted.

Tweet URL

On 15 June, parliamentary authorities decided to ban journalists from covering parliamentary committee meetings. Just two days later, a judge banned media outlets from covering two cases of alleged “conspiracy against State security affairs” in which dozens of people have been prosecuted and detained since mid-February.

Independent media silenced

“These decisions undermine the principle of transparency in public affairs. People have the right to be informed and to do so, journalists must be able to do their job without any undue restriction,” said the High Commissioner.

“Silencing the voices of journalists, in a concerted effort, undermines the crucial role of independent media, with a corrosive effect on society as a whole,” he said.

The High Commissioner called on the Tunisian Government to respect due process and fair trial standards in all judicial proceedings.

Authorities also called on the authorities to stop trying civilians before military courts and release all those arbitrarily detained, including anyone held for exercising their right to seek, receive and impart information.