Tunisia protest as police question journalists

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Dozens of journalists protested Monday in front of a Tunis police station after two of their colleagues had been taken for questioning over comments on Tunisia’s security forces, AFP correspondents said.

Columnist Haythem El Mekki and presenter Elyes Gharbi were interrogated for several hours, after which their case has been transferred to the Tunis prosecutor’s office, their lawyer Ayoub Ghdamssi told AFP.

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The pair on May 15 discussed shortcomings in police recruitment on Gharbi’s program on the private Mosaique FM radio, in the wake of a deadly mass shooting near a synagogue on Djerba island less than a week prior.

The segment was subject to a complaint by Tunisia’s police union, arguing the discussion had harmed law enforcement officers.

“All the questioning focused on my intervention during the broadcast,” Mekki told AFP via telephone after his release on Monday.

Some 20 Tunisian journalists currently face prosecution for their work, according to the SNJT journalists’ union.

Noureddine Boutar, owner of Mosaique FM -- Tunisia’s most listened to radio station -- is one of about two dozen prominent critics of President Kais Saied, including former ministers and businessmen, to have been arrested since February.

The president won a landslide victory in a 2019 general election but assumed wide-reaching powers in a July 2021 power grab.

Journalists and human rights groups in the North African country often protest government policies they say are aimed at intimidating the media and silencing critics.

Last week, Mosaique FM journalist Khalima Guesmi was jailed for five years on appeal for disclosing information about the security services.

Several local and international rights groups and trade unions have warned against the “repressive direction” of Saied’s government.

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