The health of Nassridine Ben Said, the publisher of Attounissia, has reportedly deteriorated after his third day of a hunger strike in prison. Ben Said remains in detention following the publication of a photo depicting Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira covering the breasts of his girlfriend Lena Gercke with his hand on the front page of the February 15th edition of their newspaper.
While three members of Attounissia‘s administration were arrested last Wednesday for the publication, Tunisia’s general prosecutor has decided to drop charges against two editors for the paper – Hedi Hediri, editor of the world section, and Habib Guizani, editor-in-chief – while keeping the newspaper’s owner under arrest.
Samir Dilou, the government spokesperson and Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice, has stated that he is opposed to the arrest of the owner of the newspaper and that the detainments are in violation of freedom of expression.
According to Shaker Derouich, an official from the Ministry of Human Rights and Transitional Justice, Shaker Alouane is the lawyer who raised the charges against Attounissia.
According to Guizani, Ben Said was charged with the publication of an immoral picture that caused public disorder. Guizani expressed his discontent about the arrests. “We were arrested as if we were criminals, while we are journalists. Instead of arresting us, they should have given us a warning. We are not supposed to go to jail for publishing a photo,” he added. According to Guizani, the case of Attounissia poses a larger question about the future of free press in Tunisia.
Guizani asserted that strict censorship was imposed on his newspaper the morning of his arrest. His paper was ordered to recall all the copies of the paper that were being distributed in newsstands across the country. “We were arrested the day we published the photo, and we were interrogated separately. The police also wanted to confiscate all hard copies released that day, and therefore we manged to retrieve 7,620 copies…this incident is political and is an example of a governmental attempt to control media,” he added.
Guizani further asserted that the editorial staff of Attounissia had decided to publish the picture because they considered it a newsworthy event that a Tunisian would find himself on the cover of the German GQ magazine.
“Sami Khedira is a star and the picture is artistically beautiful. We knew that the it may cause some controversy, but we did not expect this kind of reaction [from the police],” he said.
According to Guizani, several international NGO’s as well as members of civil society have expressed their support for the Attounissia publisher.
In addition, Rached Gannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s largest Islamist political party Ennahda, made a statement to the Le Temps newspaper announcing that he is against the arrest of Ben Said or any other form of harassment against journalists.
Attounisia started its printed version only two months ago, having existed as an online newspaper for five years. The newspaper describes itself to be an objective post-revolution project.