Tunisia: Journalists prosecuted for criticizing conduct of security forces

The convictions of two journalists for criticizing a violent raid by security forces on their family home in Tozeur must be overturned, said Amnesty International ahead of their appeal tomorrow.

The two journalists have experienced constant harassment from the security forces who regularly raid their home, purportedly to search for their brother who is suspected of having extreme religious views.

Salam Malik, president of the Tunisian Union for Media Association and director of the radio station "Djerid FM", was sentenced to six months in prison by a court in Tozeur on Wednesday 10 May. His sister, Salwa Malik, director of programming at the radio station, received a six month suspended sentence the same day.

"Peacefully expressing your opposition to harassment and intimidation at the hands of security forces is not a crime."

Heba Morayef, North Africa Research Director at Amnesty International

“Salam and Salwa Malik are being punished for criticizing the conduct of the security forces. Peacefully expressing your opposition to harassment and intimidation at the hands of security forces is not a crime. These convictions should be quashed,” said Heba Morayef, North Africa Research Director at Amnesty International.

“The Tunisian authorities have a history of harassing family members of suspects and violently storming their homes. Instead of lashing out against victims who file complaints, the authorities should focus their efforts on investigating these abuses.”

Six armed members of the security forces raided Salam and Salwa Malik’s family home at noon on 7 February 2017 in search of their brother, who is suspected by the police of affiliating with extremist religious groups. Salwa Malik, her mother and 11-year-old nephew were present when the officers arrived. She described to Amnesty International how she protested against the security forces’ aggressive conduct after one of police officers threatened her young nephew at gunpoint when he tried to film the raid with his tablet. “If you don’t put it down I’ll blow it up,” the officer said, terrifying her nephew.

Salam Malik arrived during the raid to find six officers searching the house and also began to complain to the officers about the violent manner in which the raid was being carried out and the family’s repeated harassment by security forces.

Later that day, the police officers who conducted the raid filed a complaint against Salam and Salwa Malik claiming that they had disrupted their work and insulted them. The pair were later convicted of “insulting a public servant while they are performing their duties”, an offence punishable by up to a year imprisonment and a fine of 120 Tunisian dinars (US$49).

The officers who conducted the raid on their home and filed the complaint were the same officers who later summoned them for interrogation in relation to this case.

In November 2014, their brother was detained for 16 months over his alleged ties to extremist group before he was eventually released in February 2016 without being convicted. Since then, security forces have carried out repeated raids on the Malik’s home.

Salwa Malik said police had carried out repeated raids on the house in recent months but each time left without finding anything. She said that the recurrent raids placed the entire family under tremendous pressure and caused them to be stigmatized. “We are tired of this harassment, we want the violations to stop,” she said.

Amnesty International’s February 2017 report documented a recurrent pattern of abuses by security forces including arbitrary arrests, unnecessary and excessive use of force during house raids, torture, arbitrary restrictions on travel and harassment of family members of suspects.

“The security forces in Tozeur should not be allowed to further intimidate family members by bringing charges against the very people they are harassing and using the courts to cover their tracks. Victims need to feel that the justice system will bring them some redress,” said Heba Morayef.