Tunisian Journalist Sentenced To 5 Years In Prison For Counterterrorism Reporting

Khalifa Guesme

TUNIS, TUNISIA (AP) — A Tunisian appeals court has sentenced a journalist to five years in prison for revealing details of a counterterrorism operation and refusing to reveal his sources, according to his lawyer, prompting outcry from media rights advocates.

Khalifa Guesmi’s lawyer said he would appeal to Tunisia’s highest court. More than 30 rights groups issued a statement denouncing the conviction and expressing concern about a growing crackdown on dissent.

It appeared to be the worst sentence against a journalist in Tunisia since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution pushed out a long-serving autocrat and ushered in a new democratic system with more media freedom.

Guesmi had been sentenced to one year in prison by a lower court. Counterterrorism judges at the Tunis appeals court on Monday upheld the conviction and toughened the sentence to five years, Guesmi said in a Facebook post Tuesday.

Guesmi was convicted of intentionally divulging sensitive security information in an article about counterterrorism arrests in the Kairouan region where he is based, and then refusing to reveal his sources, according to his lawyer Rahal Jalleli.

Jalleli called the appeals court decision “unjust.” Speaking on Mosaique FM, a privately owned Tunisian radio station, he said the source of the information was a security official who has been convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role.

The national journalists’ union SNJT said the prison sentence “threatens the freedom of journalists and damages Tunisia’s image. It is a political message that testifies to an acceleration in punishment of the media and journalists, to intimidate them via the judicial apparatus.”

Journalists’ union president Yassine Jelassi called it a “disgrace for the Tunisian state.” He said 20 journalists were currently facing prosecution related to their work.

The union called for a sit-in protest on Thursday to defend media freedom and the values of the pro-democracy uprising.