Tunisian authorities should respect the independence of the state news agency Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP), and refrain from using security forces to interfere in the agency’s personnel issues, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.
Yesterday, police officers forcibly entered TAP’s headquarters in Tunis, the capital, to break up a protest by journalists against the appointment of Kamel Ben Younes, a journalist and government ally, as the news agency’s new director, according to news reports and Olfa Habbouba, president of the independent trade union the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists’ branch in TAP, who spoke with CPJ over the phone.
TAP journalists began protesting Ben Younes’ appointment on April 6, saying that he endangered the independence of the news agency, according to news reports. Police officers escorted Ben Younes to the TAP director’s office, Habbouba said, adding that while Ben Younes was officially in place as the agency’s director, journalists’ protests continued as of today.
No journalists were harmed or detained during the police action, Habbouba said.
“The Tunisian government must ensure the independence of the press sector and refrain from using the country’s security forces to enforce contested personnel decisions,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Senior Researcher Justin Shilad. “Authorities should never have stormed the Tunis Afrique Presse news agency’s headquarters in Tunis, which sets a terrible precedent for police interference in the free press.”
Hichem Mechichi, the Tunisian head of government, removed journalist Mouna Mtibaa as the director of TAP on April 5, and appointed Ben Youssef, according to news reports. TAP is a state-run news agency that is editorially independent from the government, according to Habbouba.
On April 8, local civil society groups, including the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists and the Tunisian General Labor Union, denounced the appointment and called for a general strike on April 22 if the government does not reverse its decision, according to news reports.
On April 12, Mechichi said that he would not reconsider his decision because the director of the state’s news agency is “appointed and not elected,” reports said.
CPJ emailed the Tunisian office of the presidency and Mtibaa for comment, but did not receive any replies. CPJ contacted Ben Younes via messaging app for comment, but he did not immediately respond.
Blitz editorial board condemns police raid at the office of TAP news agency
In a statement the editorial team of Blitz has condemned the police raid at the office of Tunis Afrique Presse and called upon the Tunisian authorities to refrain from putting undue pressure on the journalists and media outlets.
Blitz has been vigorously confronting religious extremism and militancy since 2003. It has also been extremely vocal against repression on journalists around the world. It may be mentioned here that, editor of Blitz, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has served rigorous imprisonment for seven years on charges of blasphemy and sedition. In recognition of his courageous stand against religious extremism, radical Islam and militancy, Shoaib Choudhury has received ‘Freedom To Write’ award from PEN USA in 2005; American Jewish Committee’s prestigious ‘Moral Courage Award’ in 2006; Monaco Media Award in 2007, alongside many other awards from various organizations in the world.