Tunisia court sentences TV pundits to prison for critical political commentary

A Tunis court on Wednesday handed one-year sentences to two TV hosts for “spreading false news” and “defaming others” after they had made critical comments online and in the media, a court spokesman said.

Broadcaster Borhen Bssais and political commentator Mourad Zeghidi were arrested earlier this month under Decree 54, a 2022 law which critics have said is being used to stifle political dissent.

The two men received “six months for the crime of using communications networks to produce and spread false news and rumours with the aim to infringe upon the rights of others and public security”, the court’s spokesman, Mohamed Zitouna, told AFP.

Another six-month sentence was added for “using exploiting communication networks to spread news including untrue information with the aim of defaming others, tarnishing their reputation, and causing them material and moral harm”, Zitouna added.

Earlier in the day, Bssais and Zeghidi said they were doing their jobs when they had made statements deemed critical by the authorities.

Decree 54 mandates up to five years in prison for the use of communications networks to “produce, spread (or) disseminate... false news” with the aim of “harming” and “defaming” others.

Zeghidi was prosecuted for comments made in February and expressing support for journalist Mohamed Boughalleb, who is also in detention.

“My job as a political analyst requires that I talk about public issues,” Zeghidi told the hearing on Wednesday. “I’m neither an opponent nor a supporter of the president.”


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