Tunis - Human Rights Watch on Wednesday called on Tunisia to
"urgently" repeal its criminal defamation law, which can lead to two
years in jail and which it said has a "chilling effect" on freedom of
"Tunisian authorities should urgently amend the
country's law on defamation to make it conform to international norms on
freedom of expression," the New York-based press watchdog said.
"These standards hold that defamation should be
considered a civil matter, not a crime punishable with imprisonment," it
"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," said Eric Goldstein, HRW's deputy director for the Middle East
and North Africa region.
The press watchdog highlighted the case of Olfa Riahi, a
blogger who posted information about the alleged squandering of public funds by
former foreign minister Rafik Abdessalem, before he stepped down earlier this
It also cited the defamation charges brought against Raja
Ben Slama, a university professor, for accusing an Islamist MP overseeing the
drafting of the new constitution of attempting to limit freedom of expression.
They face up to two years in jail if convicted of mistakenly
accusing an official of wrongdoing.
Tunisia's secular opposition has regularly accused the ruling
Islamist party Ennahda of seeking to restrict freedom of expression and
Islamise society, relying in particular on repressive laws dating back to the
regime of deposed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.