Activists reject Ennahda Party’s threat to prosecute journalists

Reporters without Borders said Ennahda’s statement was a “serious threat to the freedom of the press.”
Sunday 18/02/2018
Tunisian journalists wearing red armbands protest outside the headquarters of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) against intimidation in Tunis, on February 2. (AFP)
Without fear. Tunisian journalists wearing red armbands protest outside the headquarters of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) against intimidation in Tunis, on February 2. (AFP)

TUNIS - Rights activists strongly criticised a statement from Tunisia’s Islamist party Ennahda that threatened legal action against “hostile” journalist and critics.

Ennahda’s Executive Bureau accused media organisations of carrying out a “smear campaign” against its members and threatened to sue “unfair critics.”

The Ennahda statement was rejected by journalists and activists, who said the party should not try to intimidate the media ahead of municipal elections in May.

“We condemn any kind of threat that may target journalists,” said the National Union of Tunisian Journalists, adding that Ennahda was “trying to drag journalists into a battlefield of no interest to them.”

Reporters without Borders, an international media freedom group, said Ennahda’s statement was a “serious threat to the freedom of the press.”

“A few weeks before elections, it is necessary to remind the Ennahda Party that journalists play a central role in a democracy and must be able to exercise their information mission independently without fear of prosecution,” the group said.

Abdelkarim Harouni, chairman of Ennadha’s Majlis al-Shura, said the party’s hand was forced after it was the subject of untrue allegations from the media.

“Ennahda’s members and sympathisers have been putting pressure on the leadership to ward off such unfair critics,” Harouni said. “They are asking us: ‘Why you are silent when the party is attacked by allegations of terrorism, corruption, money laundering?’”

Analysts said Ennahda was likely trying to reshape the political narrative ahead of municipal elections, the first such elections since the 2011 revolutionary upheaval that toppled the Ben Ali regime.

“As the municipal elections of May 6 draw closer, replaying the card of the victimisation by Ennahda and its leaders as well as the card of intimidating the media and journalists can really pay off,” said Tunisian journalist Sofiene Ben Hmida.

Tahar Belhassine, who heads al-Mostakbel Party, said Ennahda’s statements were “a pre-emptive move… to steer away from being associated with all that happened during its rule.”

Tunisia has been plagued by economic hardship and security woes since 2011. High inflation, soaring debt and widespread unemployment have been attributed to years of economic mismanagement and poor security. The country’s difficulties were made worse in 2015 when two major terror attacks hit the country.

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