Bloggers trial postponed for Tunisian FM Sheraton-gate scandal

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The trial for Tunisian blogger Olfa Riahi has been postponed to January 15.

Riahi, is under investigation by the attorney general after she accused Tunisia’s foreign minister, Rafik Abdessalam for misusing public funds in a growing national scandal involving issues of government transparency and press freedom.

“I wanted to tell Al Arabiya that my case has been postponed from Jan. 10 to Jan. 15 on Tuesday,” Riahi told Al Arabiya.

Abdessalam denied the allegations made by the blogger accusing him of using public money to stay several nights at the Tunis Sheraton Hotel accompanied by an unidentified woman, raising suspicions of adultery.

“I will testify with all the documents I have, including the ones I released and the ones I did not,” Riahi said.

The minister has denied any wrongdoing and described the woman as his cousin.

In a statement, the minister has decried both hidden and visible groups behind “these systematic attacks which seek to personally discredit me as well as the government I belong to” and said he had hired a team of legal experts in defamation.

Riahi, who calls herself an investigative journalist, is now banned from leaving Tunisia and risks a two-year prison sentence if convicted of criticizing a public official with false information.

“I find the charges against me contradictory. Some charges indicate that I released documents not belonging to me and without consent and other charges say I promoted false news, I expected such reaction,” Riahi said.

She has been defended by one of the top officials of a secular party in the governing coalition, which is led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party.

Mohammed Abbou, the secretary general of the Conference for the Republic, publicly backed Rihai and voiced his support for “freedom of the press and investigative journalism,” reviving speculation over splits with its coalition partner.

Riahi followed up allegations on Dec. 29 with documents showing that the Chinese government transferred a million dollars directly into a Foreign Ministry account rather than going via the Finance Ministry or public treasury as is the custom.

The ministry has said the money was reimbursement for a conference on Tunisia-Chinese relations.