Prominent Tunisian journalist Zied el-Heni has been arrested by an internal squad in plain clothes who stormed his home in a suburb of the capital Tunis, according to local media, amid an ongoing crackdown on critics of President Kais Saied.
El-Heni, the host of a daily programme at Radio IFM, was detained late Tuesday night after a judge ordered that he be held in custody ahead of his trial on a charge of insulting Tunisia’s president.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
The journalist had posted on his Facebook page earlier that day that he had been summoned to appear before the Fifth Central Division for Combating Information and Communication Technology Crimes. His Facebook page has since been deactivated, lawyer Islam Hamza confirmed to news outlet Arabi21.
The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists, an influential journalist union of which el-Heni was a cofounder, stated that he had been taken to the el-Aouina area of Tunis to be interrogated before the crime squad, and was denied his right to have a lawyer present.
“El-Heni was interrogated in the absence of lawyers. What happened is a farce that enhances the dictatorial approach,” El-Heni’s lawyer, Dalila ben Mbarek, told the Reuters news agency.
The journalists’ union said it was unclear why el-Heni was summoned and charged, adding that he is in poor health and is being “deprived of his simplest rights [for] justice, the right to self-defence and medicine”.
“Insistence on lawyers not attending the investigation is suspicious,” the union said.
El-Heni is a prominent figure in Tunisia. He has been vocal about his opposition to the country’s president, especially since July 2021, when Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament before moving to rule by decree and eventually taking control of the judiciary.
Before the country’s Arab Spring revolution which began in 2010, his blog Tunisnews was blocked due to his opposition to the country’s former strongman President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
El-Heni is credited with popularising the term the Jasmine Revolution to describe the Tunisian uprising that overthrew Ben Ali and set off the Arab Spring.
The journalist’s arrest is part of a wave of a growing crackdown on the country’s opposition. Since December, at least 30 people deemed critical of the Tunisian government have been arrested, according to Human Rights Watch.
The arrests have sparked condemnation from the international community and rights groups.
Earlier this week, hundreds of supporters of Tunisia’s main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, rallied to demand freedom for those detained.
The current head of the Tunisian journalists’ union, Mohamed Yassine Jelassi, condemned his colleague’s detention, stating on Facebook that no citizen should be “prosecuted for an opinion, expression or idea”.
“Until the last breath, freedom of the press and expression is not a crime,” Jelassi said.