Tunisian critic probed for state remarks

A Tunisian court has opened an investigation into political commentator Sonia Dahmani after her remarks on television questioning the state of the country. This move raises concerns about freedom of expression under President Kais Saied.

Dahmani’s comments came during a debate on Carthage Plus TV on Tuesday. When another pundit claimed sub-Saharan migrants were seeking permanent residence in Tunisia, Dahmani responded sarcastically, “What extraordinary country are we talking about?” This seemingly simple question has landed her in legal trouble.

Dahmani, a lawyer herself, refused to appear in court on Friday when summoned to explain her comments. A warrant for her arrest was then issued.

Adding context to the situation, a judicial report revealed Dahmani’s response was linked to a recent speech by President Saied, where he pledged to prevent Tunisia from becoming a resettlement point for migrants blocked from entering Europe.

This is not Dahmani’s first brush with legal action. She already faces charges for criticizing the state of Tunisian prisons in November 2023. Both cases hinge on Decree 54, a controversial law signed by Saied in September 2022.

Decree 54 criminalizes “spreading false news” online or in media outlets, with penalties reaching up to five years in prison.

Journalists and opposition figures argue the law is a tool to silence dissent, a claim bolstered by the prosecution of over 60 individuals, including journalists and lawyers, since the decree’s implementation, according to the National Union of Tunisian Journalists.

The incident highlights the growing tension surrounding freedom of expression in Tunisia and adds another layer of complexity to the nation’s ongoing struggle with migration.

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