By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
TUNIS, Tunisia – On Wednesday, 15 February, Tunisian officials arrested the head of Attounissia and two of its editors after the Tunisian newspaper published a picture of German-Tunisian soccer player Sami Khedira with his nude girlfriend. The Justice Ministry claims the publication of the photo violated public morals.
The photo the newspaper printed displays the Real Madrid midfielder in a tuxedo covering the breasts of Lena Gercke, Khedira’s girlfriend and German model, with his hands. German GQ magazine published the same photo on the cover its of March 2012 issue.
Chokri Nafti, the Justice Ministry spokesperson, reported the prosecutor charged publisher Nasreddine Ben Said, editor in chief Hbib Guizani, and editor of the world section Hedi Hadhri with “disrespecting public decency.” The prosecutor detained the men while the Justice Ministry investigated the case. The journalists argued they were simply reporting sports news.
On Thursday, Mr. Ben Said’s lawyer Chokri Beledi reported Tunisian officials released Mr. Guizani and Mr. Hadhri. Mr. Beleid added, “Ben Said’s imprisonment is illegal and is aimed at terrorising the media…The judiciary used the same law that Ben Ali used to pursue journalists and it is being utilised to strike down enemies just as it was under Ben Ali.”
The police are guarding the newspaper’s building after a female journalist reported receiving phone calls that threatened to burn the office. Reuters identified her as the informant for these calls, but the Associated Press concealed her name to combat her fear of retaliation by religious extremists.
Although Tunisia is a more moderate Muslim country, the newspaper does not tend to publish such bold photographs. The country has struggled balancing its strong secular societal norms with the ultraconservative movement that spurred after its secular dictator fell last year. Secular Tunisians fear the conservative Muslims leading the government will censor the media to align the country with its religious moral standards.
The Tunisian Union of Journalists stated, “We are condemning the continued detainment and arrest warrant issued against Ben Saida. The lack of professionalism of Attounissia’s editorial decision-makers does not justify the state taking away an individual’s freedom, rather this problem can be solved within the professional institutions for the journalists.” Attounissia has also accused Mehdi Mabrouk, the Minister of Culture, of censoring the newspaper by standardizing artistic tastes.
Furthermore, Tunisia’s highest appellate court will issue its delayed ruling on a lower court’s decision to block pornographic websites on Friday, 24 February.
In response to the arrests, the anonymous female journalist said, “This issue is political and aims to quell the voice of the media and stop its criticizing the government.”
For further information, please see:
Money Control – Tunisia To Try 3 Journalists In Morality Dispute – 17 Feb 2012
All Africa – Tunisia: Newsmen Arrested in Tunis After Publication of Racy Sami Khedira Photo – 15 Feb 2012
The Boston Globe – 3 Tunisian Journalists Arrested Over Nude Photo – 15 Feb 2012