TUNIS, TUNISIA - Scores of journalists held a sit-in Friday in the Tunisian capital to protest what they say is growing pressure to film, photograph and write only what puts security officers and the government in a good light, reviving memories of the era before Tunisia kicked off the Arab Spring seven years ago.
Videos from around the North African country showed journalists joining the day of action by sitting in front of local government offices.
The president of Tunisia’s journalists’ union, Neji Bghouri, said 40 threat cases were registered in January amid nationwide protests over price hikes that degenerated. Photographers and videographers say equipment was confiscated when they filmed police brutality against protesters.
Those protests came as Tunisia marked seven years since its autocratic leader was ousted, inspiring the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions.
Bghouri expressed concern that freedom of the press, “the principle gain of the revolution,” is being threatened.
He claimed that intimidation tactics extend to ”threats of torture and rape” from police “militias” and other Interior Ministry agents. Bghouri expressed esteem for security forces fighting Islamic extremists, but added that “we want officers to protect themselves so they don’t turn into torturers and enemies of the citizen.”
A representative of Human Rights Watch present at the sit-in, Emna Guellali, said there has been a “decline in the indexes (measuring) press freedom in Tunisia” in recent times, particularly in January, and deplored “the tendency of authorities to want to impose on the media an orientation.”
Tunisian media noted a particularly grievous anti-press reaction, a case in the southern city of Sfax in which a police union official wrote vulgarities and threats in a Jan. 30 Facebook post — leading to an investigation, the official TAP news agency reported Friday.
The press was tightly controlled and the population at large feared the police and other security forces in the era of ousted leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, chased into exile in January 2011, inspiring the Arab Spring. Tunisia is now a budding democracy, but is fighting unemployment, terrorist threats and struggling to stay on track.