An investigative judge in a Tunis court has issued a travel ban on Tunisian blogger Olfa Riahi, who leaked potentially damaging information on Foreign Affairs Minister Rafik Abdessalem. The travel ban represents the latest development in the controversy over Abdessalem’s hotel stays at the Sheraton that has come to be known as “Sheraton Gate.”
“I will not shrink from such practices that don’t intimidate me at all,” Riahi told state news agency TAP.
The travel ban has attracted critical responses from within the governing Troïka coalition. In an interview with Tunisian radio Mosaique FM, spokesperson of Ettakatol party Mohamed Bennour called on civil society to mobilize to bring down this decision.
“We denounce this procedure and consider it an affront to the freedom of expression… I consider investigative journalism to be very positive uncovering the hidden truth to the public,” he said.
Charfeddine Kellil, a member of the “group of 25 lawyers” representing Riahi, told Nessma TV yesterday that the accusations against Riahi are unfounded because her actions were fully legal. Kellil mentioned that the travel ban is the only sanction made against Riahi thus far, and expressed his disdain for such a practice, saying its sole purpose is to “harass” his client.
Kellil asserted to the public that the lawsuit, which the “group of 25 lawyers” is pursuing against Abdessalem, will uncover “catastrophes” regarding the government’s misuse of public funds and implicate high-level officials.
Riahi posted on her Facebook page yesterday: “Please do not ban them (those officials to be potentially implicated in “Sheraton Gate”) from traveling, let who wants to escape escape already. We remain, and right prevails and nothing can overcome it.”
On December 26, Riahi posted on her blog hotel receipts, which showed that Abdessalem had spent several nights at the luxury Sheraton hotel in downtown Tunis. The released documents raised questions over the misuse of public money by the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Roua Seghaier contributed to reporting