Tunisia: Parliamentarian and blogger sentenced to 16 days in prison for Facebook post

A Tunisian military court’s decision to sentence parliamentarian and blogger Yassine Ayari to 16 days in prison is an unjust decision that violates the right to freedom of expression and the right to fair trial, said Amnesty International today.

On 27 March, parliamentarian and blogger Yassine Ayari was sentenced in his absence by military court to 16 days imprisonment for a post on Facebook published on 27 February 2017, in which he mocked the appointment of a senior military commander.  

“It is surreal that in today’s Tunisia people can still face imprisonment for acts fully protected by freedom of expression. The fact that in this case the man in question is a parliamentarian who was criticising the authorities and that his trial took place in a military court is even more shocking.'' said Heba Morayef, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“Civilians should never be tried before military courts. Tunisia should urgently initiate legal reforms to explicitly limit the military court’s jurisdiction only to breaches of military discipline committed by military personnel, as required by international standards.”

In his Facebook post, Yassine Ayari mocked the appointment by President Beji Caid Sebssi of Ismail Fatahali as Chief of Ground forces , describing him as “overly sensitive” after reporting a quote where he allegedly said in a trial in 2014 that a “Facebook post had ruined his morale”. Yassin Ayari’s trial before a military court violates several due process guarantees in addition to his right to freedom of expression.  Seifeddine Makhlouf, one of Ayari’s lawyers, told Amnesty International that defence lawyers were not given access to all court documents concerning the prosecution of Ayari, despite repeated requests. Yassine Ayari informed Amnesty International that an additional complaint has been brought against him at the military court and that the next session will be on 10 April.  

The prosecution of persons for “defaming the army” or other state institutions is incompatible with Tunisia’s obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

''It's high time the Tunisian authorities put an end to this farce. They must ensure that the verdict is quashed and order a halt to all prosecutions on criminal defamation charges. Parliamentarians should urgently revise the the Code of Military Justice as well as the Penal Code provisions that criminalize acts of free expression.” '' said Heba Morayef.

Background

Yassine Ayari had already faced trial and imprisonment in relation to previous critical posts online. In November 2014, a military court convicted him in his absence to three years imprisonment for “defamation of the army” because he had criticized Defence Minister Ghazi Jerbi, as well as other specific appointments in the military command on Facebook. In January 2015, a military court had reduced the sentence to one year imprisonment. He was released after six months in jail.

Since 2011, at least 10 civilians have been tried before military courts in cases related to the expression of opinions, usually for criticizing the army or state officials. In September 2016, a military prosecutor charged Jamel Arfaoui, an independent journalist, with undermining the reputation of the army in an article he wrote on a news website. In November 2014, Sahbi Jouini, a police union leader, was convicted in his absence and sentenced to two years in prison for defaming the army, after he accused the army of failing to use information adequately to combat terrorism. In May 2013, blogger Hakim Ghanmi was tried before a military court for “undermining the reputation of the army” after he complained about the director of a military hospital.