Tunisia probes political commentator over comments on TV show

Technicians wait on the set before the broadcast news. [AFP]

A Tunisian court has opened an investigation into a political commentator after she made comments on television about the state of the country, lawyers and local media said Friday.

During a show on the Carthage Plus TV channel on Tuesday, Sonia Dahmani responded to another pundit's claim that sub-Saharan migrants were seeking to settle in Tunisia.

"What extraordinary country are we talking about?" she asked sarcastically.

Dahmani, who is also a lawyer, was summoned to court on Friday to explain her comments but refused to appear, her attorney Dalila Msaddek said.

The court then issued a failure to appear warrant, ordering law enforcement to bring her before the investigating judge as soon as possible.

A judicial report on Thursday said Dahmani's comments were in response to a speech by President Kais Saied earlier this week in which he said the country would not become a place for the resettlement of sub-Saharan migrants prevented from crossing to Europe.

Dahmani was already facing legal action for criticising the state of Tunisian prisons in November 2023.

Both cases fall under the controversial Decree 54, which outlaws "spreading false news" online or in the media. Journalists and opposition figures argue the law has been used to stifle dissent.

Signed by the president in September 2022, the decree mandates up to five years in prison for the use of communications networks to "produce, spread (or) disseminate... false news" or to "slander others, tarnish their reputation, financially or morally harm them".

Since the decree came into force, more than 60 journalists, lawyers and opposition figures have been prosecuted under it, according to the National Union of Tunisian Journalists.

The situation of sub-Saharan African migrants in Tunisia has worsened, particularly after a speech by Saied last year in which he said "hordes of illegal migrants" were part of a conspiracy "to change the demographic composition" of the country.

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