Tunisia: Newspaper executive Nasreddine Ben Saida released

A Tunisian court today released Nasreddine Ben Saida, general director of the Arabic-language daily Attounissia, who was arrested on 15 February after his newspaper published a photo German-Tunisian footballer Sami Khedira with his naked girlfriend. Rim Boukriba, a journalist for Attounisia, expressed her discontent about the arrest. “He was treated like a criminal … did he kill someone? Is he too dangerous to stay at large?” she said. “The authorities who jailed Ben Saida are seeking to silence us … their problem is not with the picture itself … but with the newspaper, which is popular, and widely read”, she told Index. “The picture is only an excuse,” she added. The court is expected to issue a verdict on the case on 8 March.


Tunisia: Provocative shot of Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira and naked girlfriend lands media executive in prison

Nasreddine Ben Saida, the general director of the Arabic-language daily newspaper Attounissia, has become the first media executive to be jailed in post Ben Ali era. Ben Saida, was not jailed for criticising the President, nor the government. He was jailed because his newspaper published a front page photo of Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira covering the breasts of his naked girlfriend, the German model, Lena Gercke.

Nasreddine Ben Saida was arrested on 15 February 15 along with the newspaper’s editor, Habib Guizani, and journalist Mohammed Hedi Hidri. On 18 February the general prosecutor decided to free Guizani and Hidri, but Ben Saida remains in prison. The publisher has reportedly started a hunger strike.

The arrests were not made under the country’s recently ratified press law, instead the prosecutor employed article 121 of the criminal code (ratified in May, 2001). It prohibits the publishing and distribution of content that is “likely to disturb public order and decency”. If found guilty Ben Saida faces up to five years in prison.

The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists condemned the prosecutor’s actions as “legal abuse” because article 13 of the new press legislation states that journalists “cannot be prosecuted in connection with their work unless a violation of the provisions of this decree-law is proved.”

The arrest is surprising because “indecent” photos are not strange to Tunisia society, both foreign and Tunisian magazines publish such photos. For instance, the monthly French speaking magazine Tunivisions published a front page photo of a semi-naked Tunisian model, on its August 2011 issue. No legal action was taken against the magazine.

Khedira spoke out in support of the journalists, telling German newspaper De Welt:

I think it is very, very sad and a great shame that something like this could happen. I respect the different religions that there are, and the faiths people have. But I can’t understand why people aren’t allowed to express themselves freely.