Tunisia: Journalists condemn law on prison terms for fake news

i24NEWS - Reuters

3 min read
Journalists demonstrate outside the national journalists' union to demand more freedom in the press, in Tunis, Tunisia, on October 17, 2012.
AP Photo/Hassene DridiJournalists demonstrate outside the national journalists' union to demand more freedom in the press, in Tunis, Tunisia, on October 17, 2012.

'A strong blow to the revolutionary values that granted freedom to all journalists and all Tunisians'

Tunisia’s president on Friday decreed a law imposing prison terms for spreading false information or rumors online, a move immediately denounced by the main journalists’ union as an assault on freedom of speech.

After seizing most powers and shutting down the elected parliament last year, President Kais Saied said he would uphold the rights and freedoms won by Tunisians in a 2011 revolution that brought democracy.

But his new law provided for prison terms of five years for spreading false news, false information, or rumors with the aim of attacking others, harming public security, or generating terror.

If the target of the false information or rumors is an official, the prison term can be 10 years, the new law said.

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"The decree is a new setback for rights and freedoms. The penalties for publishing in any networks are a strong blow to the revolutionary values that granted freedom to all journalists and all Tunisians," said Mahdi Jlassi, head of the journalists' union.

Jlassi added that the law was reminiscent of those used by the late autocratic president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to crack down on dissenting opponents.

Since the north African country’s revolution over a decade ago, its media became one of the most open of any Arab state, with even the state-owned news agency frequently criticizing authorities.

Activists on social media sites criticized Saied's decree, describing it as an effort to destroy those hard-won freedoms. 

Saied's critics accuse him of having launched a coup last summer when he seized executive authority, moving to one-man rule. But the leader denies acting unlawfully and says his actions were needed to save Tunisia from years of stagnation and political paralysis.

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