Interior Minister Ali Laarayedh expressed doubt about the recent claims of Tunisian journalists having been assaulted by security forces while filming and reporting last Saturday’s protest.
The remarks came at yesterday’s meeting of government ministers with the Constituent Assembly. Each minister had a chance to speak, and Laareyedh took on the issue of violence against journalists unprompted.
Saturday’s attacks have been denounced by Reporters Without Borders, who issued a statement condemning “the many direct physical attacks by police on journalists while covering the demonstration organized by the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) in Tunis on February 25.”
In a meeting held today, the Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), announced that in response to the attacks against them, and the lack of official support following those attacks, they will be going on a symbolic strike for “an hour or two” at some point next week. They will also abstain from covering certain national events, such as select meetings of the Constituent Assembly.
Reporters Without Borders went further, enumerating seven cases of attacks against Tunisian journalists and pointing out that these practices “signal a clear return to the use of police violence against media.”
The SNJT claimed that they were insulted and attacked by security forces, even after showing their press cards. Some of them asserted that they were even wearing press jackets when police agents attacked them.
Laarayedh, however, stated that journalists, who “supposedly” were present, refused to follow the orders of the security officers to step aside.
The minister of the interior went on to accuse Tunisian journalists of a lack of objectivity and claimed that Tunisian journalists regularly distort reality and report only “one side of the story.”
Laareyedh is not the first official to criticize the media; other members of the government have recently accused Tunisian journalists of inciting social unrest and even “harming tourism.”
Reporters Without Borders conveyed their worry that such statements are potentially rationalizing “the increasingly frequent verbal and physical attacks on journalists.”
“Their statements could even be seen as encouraging the scapegoating of journalists,” declared the organization in its statement.
During a general assembly held today by the Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) to examine resistance strategies against the wave of attacks targeting them, Ayman Rezgui, a member of the Executive Board of the union and also a victim of violence Saturday, voiced his serious concern as to the precarious situation of Tunisian journalists.
“We are being attacked by members of the Constituent Assembly. Our colleague from Al Wataniya [Tunisian national television] Chedia Khdhir was verbally attacked yesterday by Constituent member Faysal Jadlaoui,” he stated.
Mongi Khadhraoui, secretary general of the SNJT, went so far as to accuse the Ennahda Movement, the largest seat-holder Constituent Assembly, of using the same propaganda tools of the old regime.
“Under Ben Ali, orders used to come from [the presidential palace in] Carthage and from [former propaganda chief] Abdelwaheb Abdullah and nowadays attempts are coming from [Ennahda's headquarters in] Montplaisir and [Ennahda political counselor] Lotfi Zitoun,” asserted Khadhraoui.
Ali Laareyedh stated that he had already opened an investigation into last Saturday’s assaults on journalists.
“We hope that the announcement of an internal investigation is more than just another attempt to appease public opinion,” stated Reporters Without Borders in reaction, noting that the Ministry’s last internal investigation, concerning a previous police attack on journalists from Tunisian Francophone daily Le Temps and Tunisian news website Web Manager Center, had not yet yielded any published results.