Free speech in Tunisia will be contested

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Significance

In November, the court had sentenced Ayari in absentia to three years in prison for defaming army officers and senior officials of the defence ministry. The penalty was reduced to one year in January, but his lawyers filed an appeal. The detention is the second of its kind in recent months. In a similar case on November 18, the same military court sentenced in absentia police union leader Sahbi Jouini to two years in prison for defamation. The cases unsettle many Tunisians who had hoped that the new political landscape would give them more freedoms, but in practice military courts retain the same power as under the regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Impacts

  • The legal framework makes it still possible to prosecute political opponents.
  • The judiciary lacks impartiality and tends to side with the government of the day. This trend is likely to continue.
  • Trust in democratic transition has been decreasing over the past year; it could fall further.
  • The ambivalence of Islamic authorities in condemning threats against persons who offend the 'sacred' will foster extremist acts.
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