Tunisian journalist undergoes trial for allegedly insulting public official
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Tunisian journalist undergoes trial for allegedly insulting public official

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Following a Tuesday hearing, a prominent Tunisian journalist has been placed under pre-trial detention at the order of a judge. The journalist, Mohamed Boughalleb, hinted at the potential publication of exposés on corruption and the misappropriation of public funds by several ministers and public institutions.

Boughalleb’s court appearance comes four days subsequent to his arrest in Tunis for allegedly insulting a public official on social media. His detention has sparked condemnation from advocates of free speech in Tunisia, a country known for igniting the Arab Spring movement in the last decade.

Scheduled for trial next month, Boughalleb faces a possible two to four-year sentence, as per his lawyer, Nafaa Larbi. His arrest underscores a troubling trend where a 2022 law, commonly referred to as Decree 54, ostensibly targeting cybercrime, has been wielded to silence journalists and government critics.

This legislation has ensnared numerous high-profile figures, including opposition leader Chaima Issa, political commentator Ziad El Heni, and Sofiane Zneidi of the opposition party Ennahda. According to Human Rights Watch, Decree 54 has been instrumental in the detention or investigation of at least 20 individuals, ranging from journalists to students, for their expressions online or in media.

Zied Dabbar, president of Tunisia’s National Journalist Syndicate, lamented Boughalleb’s arrest as emblematic of the routine harassment faced by journalists in Tunisia. He highlighted the dilemma faced by journalists uncovering misuse of public funds and corruption within the government.

During the court hearing, Boughalleb reiterated his intent to expose corruption and financial misconduct involving several ministers and public entities. His trial precedes President Kais Saied’s anticipated bid for re-election, with Saied having garnered support in 2019 for his anti-corruption platform.

However, his subsequent actions, including the suspension of parliament and reforms to consolidate power, have drawn criticism for curtailing democratic freedoms and targeting dissenters.