Take action to end impunity in Tunisia

From 1 to 23 November, The International Free Expression Exchange’s (IFEX) International Day to End Impunity campaign is highlighting cases where “an individual who has been threatened, attacked or worse for expressing themselves.” In all the case the perpetrators of abuse have not been brought to account.

On the anniversary of the coup that brought President Ben Ali to power in Tunisia in 1987, IFEX is highlighting the case of Tunisian poet Mohamed Sghaier Ouled Ahmed, who was attacked by Salafists in August. Nobody has been arrested in connection with the assault.

God you were right
Kings would – as would Presidents too –
Ruin a village if they enter it
So ruin the castles that belong to Kings
To serve the villagers right

We all went to vote
And none voted for those who won

From the poem “Ilahi” (My God), by Sghaier Ouled Ahmed

Since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, Tunisian poet Sghaier Ouled Ahmed has been accused of being an infidel and abusing Islam by the country’s religious leaders because of hard-hitting poems such as “Ilahi”.

In August this year, ultra-conservative Salafists took the accusations to a new level.
In a TV interview In the interview, Ahmed criticised the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, which won elections after Ben Ali was ousted in 2011. A group of at least five Salafists were waiting outside the studio for the prominent poet to finish the interview.

As soon as Ahmed stepped out of the Tunis television station, one of the men punched him in the face. Onlookers and police stood idly by.

After the attack, he said,

I no longer recognise this government which cannot protect its citizens… No officers or officials will be saved from the bombs of my poetry and prose if they continue to turn a blind eye to such attacks.

The IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group, a coalition of 21 IFEX members campaigning for free expression in Tunisia (including Index on Censorship), calls it an example of “old style repression in new Tunisia“. They report that attacks against journalists, artists and writers by police and ultra-conservative groups are actually on the increase since the country was freed from Ben Ali’s regime in 2011. And the new government has done nothing about them.

Find out more about Sghaier Ouled Ahmed and the International Day to End Impunity campaign here

Attacks against Tunisian journalists on the rise


In its annual report published on World Press Freedom Day (3 May), the National Syndicate for Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) announced that it had registered 60 physical assaults against journalists over the last year.

The syndicate criticised the “passivity and silence of the government” in response to the alarming increase in the number of assaults.

Multiple assaults were recorded in April alone. The most recent act of violence recorded took place on 30 April, when militants belonging to the Ennahda Movement, assaulted a journalist working for the collective blog Nawaat.

Ennahda is the largest party in Tunisia’s governing alliance and Emine M’tiraoui was attacked while he was at the headquarters of the party, after he conducted an interview with a party member.

In testimony published on Nawaat.org, M’tiraoui said:

at the lobby of the party’s headquarters there was a fight and a woman was screaming. I had my camera with me, and it seems that my assaulters thought that I was filming what was going on. Though I had my press card, with my name and the name of Nawaat on it, a young militant in the movement circulated that I was “a leftist dog, and a police officer loyal to one of Tunisia’s leftist figures.

The attack continued outside the party’s headquarters. “Outside I fell to the ground…there were police officers who witnessed the assaults but they did not interfere to stop [it]” he told Index.

In less than a month M’tiraoui has been assaulted twice. On 9 April, militants of another prominent political party in Tunisia, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) beat him while he was covering the party’s conference.

According to the estimates from Aymen Rezgui, member of the press syndicate’s executive board, one assault is registered every week. This increase in the number of assaults is due to “police’s laxity, and to the attempts of a number of political parties to incite public opinion against journalists,” Rezgui explains.

Leaders of Ennahda, which heads the three-party coalition government, have often expressed their dissatisfaction with the media’s coverage of the government. In an interview with Radio Express FM on 25 April, Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s president, accused state television station, Wataniya 1 of having “an anti revolutionary and biased editorial line which rejoices at the defeat of the legitimate government”.

“There is a clear hostility towards the government” he added.

The SNJT, on the other hand, accuses the government of seeking to tighten control over the media sector. In its report the SNJT denounced attempts to force “the media sector to follow the political vision of the government”.