Sign up for weekly updates

IPI condemns passage of act targeting free flow of information

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 16 June: The Tunisian Chamber of Deputies yesterday passed a new law under which press freedom activists and other human rights defenders could find themselves jailed for up to 12 years in times "of war" - and five in peace time- if they lobby against Tunisia's economic interests.

The act amends Article 61 bis. of the Tunisian penal code, which already punishes "anyone who has undertaken, by any means whatsoever, to undermine the integrity of the Tunisian territory or has met agents of a foreign power, the purpose or the result of which is to undermine the military or diplomatic situation of Tunisia." The new provision penalizes anyone who "deliberately contacts foreign sides" to harm Tunisia's vital interests, which were expanded to include economic interests, according to a report from Agence Tunis Afrique Press (TAP), Tunisia's official news agency.

"It is believed that the law was created in direct response to the activities of a number of human rights defenders, who recently lobbied the European Union against granting 'advanced status' to Tunisia unless it honours its national and international human rights commitments."

"IPI is concerned that this law was created to punish journalists and human rights activists," said IPI Director David Dadge. "If it is in Tunisia's national interest to improve its economic relations with Europe, then Tunisia should align its own policies with the human rights requirements in its Association Agreement with the EU. What it should not do is to accuse Tunisian citizens of treason simply because they want their government to uphold the standards to which it is committed."

"This law is now a new sword of Damocles on the head of human rights defenders, free writers and journalists," said Sihem Bensedrine in an email to IPI. Bensedrine, who participated in a lobbying mission to the EU in May this year, heads Tunisia's independent Radio Kalima and is Secretary General of the Tunisian free press group OLPEC. "Some officials have already called in their campaigns for the withdrawal of nationality and the imprisonment of some defenders, as 'criminals.'"

Bensedrine said that while the law will not deter her or others from defending freedom in Tunisia or conducting advocacy campaigns, "the price is now higher."

She added: "Tunisia's partners and in particular the EU should react strongly."

IPI participated in a joint fact-finding mission to Tunisia earlier this year. Download the final mission report from the Tunisia Monitoring Group, a coalition of 20 members of IFEX, including IPI:

Read her comments

Latest Tweet:

Australia: The gender pay gap is closing in the media industry, but there is still much progress to be made.…

Get more stories like this

Sign up for our newsletters and get the most important free expression news delivered to your inbox.