Al Jazeera reporter Samir Sassi arrested in Tunisia, bureau chief says

Al Jazeera reporter Samir Sassi arrested in Tunisia, bureau chief says
A reporter working for Al Jazeera in Tunisia has been arrested, as part of a sustained crackdown on journalists in the country.
3 min read
Al Jazeera's Tunisia bureau has been closed since July 2021 [Getty]

Tunisian authorities have arrested an Al Jazeera reporter, the network's bureau chief said Thursday, as campaigners voiced concern over the growing number of journalists behind bars in the North African country.

"Samir Sassi, a journalist at the Al Jazeera office in Tunisia, was arrested after security forces raided his house" late Wednesday, said Lotfi Hajji, director of the pan-Arab television network's bureau in Tunis.

Translation: Colleague Samir Sassi, a journalist at Al Jazeera’s office in Tunisia, was arrested after the security forces raided his house, searched him, and seized his computer, his phone, and the phones of his wife and children. The security forces did not disclose to him and his family the reasons for his arrest.

He told AFP that police did not disclose the reasons for the arrest, nor where Sassi was being held. There was no official comment on the arrest from Tunisian authorities.

Hajji said the security forces had also seized Sassi's "computer, phone, and the phones of his wife and children".

Al Jazeera's Tunisia bureau has been closed since President Kais Saied's swift power grab in July 2021, but the network's journalists remained accredited and maintained their coverage in Tunisia.

Authorities did not provide a reason for shutting down the bureau at the time.

Tunisia has come under criticism for a crackdown on the freedom of speech, including the arrests of more than 30 journalists in 2023, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

In an open letter to Saied published on Thursday, the IFJ expressed its "deepest concern at the frequent imprisonment of journalists, in total contravention of the provisions of the Tunisian Constitution in respect of freedom of expression and the media".

It mentioned the case of Tunisian journalist Zied El Heni, who was arrested on December 29 after criticising Tunisian Commerce Minister Kalthoum Ben Rejeb in a radio show he hosts.

Heni became well known during the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and set in motion what later came to be known as the Arab Spring.

The journalist remains in detention, awaiting trial scheduled for January 10.

"Heni's case is not an isolated one, but clearly indicates the existence of a systematic policy of instrumentalising legal procedures and the judicial system to systematically intimidate, bully and imprison journalists," said the IFJ.

Last summer, the United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk said he was "deeply concerned" over the crackdown on media in Tunisia, with vaguely worded legislation used to criminalise criticism.

Seventeen journalists in Tunisia currently face trial, according to local media.

Heni and some other journalists have been prosecuted under the provisions of Decree 54, which punishes those accused of spreading "false news" with a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

The legislation "is being used to silence journalists and opponents of the president", Anthony Bellanger, general secretary of the IFJ, said earlier this week, accusing the government of "attacking journalists".