By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
TUNIS, Tunisia – Olfa Riahi, a blogger from Tunisia, has been charged with criminal defamation just two weeks after university professor and psychoanalyst Raja Ben Slama was charged with defaming a public official.
Olfa Riahi’s charges stem from statements she posted regarding Rafik Abdessalem having misused public funds. The post included hotel receipts indicating that Abdessalem stayed at a posh hotel in Tunis at the public’s expense and that he transferred funds from a foreign government into a foreign ministry account. Rafik Abdessalem was the foreign minister of Tunisia. He abdicated his position shortly after Riahi’s accusations.
If Riahi is convicted, she may face a prison sentence. It boggles the mind that one who publicly exposes potential corruption could be imprisoned for up to two years. An individual convicted for defamation can be sentenced to six months of imprisonment, however, there is a potential two year imprisonment for defaming a public official. Also, there are various fines associated with the specific charges in addition to the imprisonment.
Riahi is officially charged with violations of articles 245 and 128 of the penal code and article 86 of the telecommunications code. Defamation under the telecommunications code occurs as a result, “harming others or disrupting their lives through public communication networks.” Article 245 of the penal code describes defamation as “any allegation or public imputation of a fact that harms the honor or the esteem of a person or official body.”
The international human rights group, Human Rights Watch, has called on Tunisian authorities to revise their stance on criminal defamation. The group requested that Tunisia convert defamation charges from criminal cases to civil cases, in order to “conform to international norms on freedom of expression.”
Human Rights Watch’s deputy director on the Middle East and North Africa, Eric Goldstein, stated that “criminal defamation laws have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and work against the public interest by deterring people from speaking out about corruption or other misconduct by public officials.”
The aforementioned statement directly applies to the post Riahi made concerning Rafik Abdessalem alleged corruption. Furthermore, Abdessalem’s decision to step down could be viewed as an admission to the alleged corruption, making Riahi’s assertion seem more like a fact than defamation. The ability to make such statements is necessary to maintain the international human right of freedom of expression and to a practical effect, to keep a government honest.
For further information, please see:
Tunisia Live – Human Rights Watch Condemns Defamation Laws in Tunisia – 21 March 2013
Guardian – Tunisian Blogger Faces Prison – 20 March 2013
Human Rights Watch – Tunisia: Repeal Criminal Defamation Law – 20 March 2013
Middle East Online – Human Rights Watch: Tunisia’s Defamation law Threatens Free Speech – 20 March 2013