Tunisia detains prominent journalist Mohamed Boughalleb

Tunisian prominent journalist Mohamed Boughalleb speaks during the filming of his show in Tunis

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) -The Tunisia public prosecutor detained prominent journalist Mohamed Boughalleb on Friday on suspicion of insulting a public official, which the journalists union said was aimed at silencing the voices of journalists.

The detention of Boughalleb, who has been a critic of President Kais Saied, reinforces activists’ fears that the government was increasingly restricting freedoms ahead of presidential elections expected this year.

"A public sector employee insisted on filing a complaint against Boughalleb after he insulted her on social media and repeated it on a radio program,” Judge Mohamed Zitouna, spokesperson of the public prosecutor, told Reuters without naming the employee. The court will decide whether to extend or cancel his detention.

The police on Friday began questioning Boughalleb, an independent journalist, amid a broad campaign of support from journalists and activists who called on Saied to stop restricting freedom of speech.

Saied seized extra powers in 2021 when he shut down the elected parliament and moved to rule by decree before assuming authority over the judiciary.

Since Tunisia's 2011 revolution, press freedom has been a key gain for Tunisians and its media has become one of the most open of any Arab state.

However, politicians, journalists and unions say that freedom of the press faces a serious threat under the rule of Saied, who came to power in 2019 in free elections and who has rejected such accusations, saying he will not become a dictator.

The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists demanded the immediate release of Boughalleb and expressed its readiness for all forms of struggle to defend free speech.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Leslie Adler and Josie Kao)