Of all the countries in Northwest Africa, Tunisia best respects the right to freedom of expression granted by Law 31 of the Tunisian constitution of 2014.
Yet, in this period, the fury with which Tunisian authorities are trying to prevent criticism against the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is shocking.
Last week, two bloggers were arrested and charged for posts on their blogs alleging that the government is not providing adequate compensation to people who are struggling financially due to the pandemic, and that basic food supplies were not available in supermarkets.
On 12 April, Hajer Awadi posted a video on her Facebook page denouncing the corruption of local authorities and the insufficient distribution of basic foodstuffs in the Le Kef region in the North West of Tunisia. In the video, she accused local police of attacking and threatening her and her uncle for having reported about corruption.
An hour later, they were both arrested. On 13 April, they were charged with “insulting a civil servant” under article 125 of the penal code and “causing noises and disturbances to the public” under article 316 of the penal code
The same day, Anis Mabrouki posted a video on his Facebook page showing a crowd of people standing in front of the closed office of the mayor of Tebourba (30 kilometres from Tunis) to receive the financial aid they were promised by the government. The next day, the mayor pressed charges against him.
On 15 April, Mabrouki appeared before the prosecutor and was charged with “causing noises and disturbances to the public” and “accusing public officials of crimes related to their jobs without furnishing proof of guilt” under Articles 316 and 128 respectively of the Penal Code.
His request for release was refused, so Mabrouki is being detained pending trial that has been set for 30 April.
If all goes well, Awadi and Mabrouki will be fined. If not, they face up to one year in prison.