A Tunisian journalist faces five years in prison for allegedly promoting violence against a government official.
Mourad Meherzi, cameraman for Astrolabe TV, captured a video of an egg being thrown at Tunisia’s culture minister Mehdi Mabrouk.
In response to a complaint filed by Mabrouk two days after the incident, Meherzi was arrested August 18 and accused not only of filming the incident and disseminating the footage, but also being an accomplice of the egg thrower, film director Nasredine Sihilli.
Set to open on September 5, Meherzi’s case has prompted anger among journalists.
Organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Article 19, the Tunis Centre for Press Freedom and Human Rights Watch are urging for the charges against Meherzi to be dropped.
The reluctance of Tunisian authorities to drop the charges and release Mehrezi is a clear infringement to the country's press freedom. In fact, Article 13 of Decree Law 115-2011 states “a journalist cannot be held liable for an opinion, idea, or information that he published in accordance with the customs and ethics of the profession and cannot be held responsible because of the performance of his duties unless it is established he has violated the provisions of this decree.”
Astrolabe TV’s director Ahmed Amine Ben Saad provided Human Rights Watch with documentation that Meherzi was on assignment, but the public prosecutor’s office released a statement insisting that Mehrezi and Sihilli confessed to knowing of the assault in advance and preparing it together. Mehrezi said he refused to sign the police document because it contained false accusations about his complicity.
“The lack of evidence of conspiracy means that Mehrezi is effectively detained for doing his job, which is filming events,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch. “His prosecution is a bad precedent for media freedom in Tunisia.”
By Christine Coester.