A leading Tunisian blogger and online activist will stand trial today on charges of allegedly insulting a security officer during an apparent parking dispute.
Blogger Lina Ben Mhenni is scheduled to stand trial in the Court of the First Instance in the southern City of Medenine today for allegedly insulting an officer in the course of their duty. The case dates back to 2014 when, according to a report from Mosaiq FM a dispute arose over a parking issue. It is suggested that Ben Mhenni and her parents were confronted by officers over the poor parking of their car, whereupon Ben Mhenni is accused of using insulting language against one of the security officials.
Ben Mhenni rose to prominence under the regime of former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali where her blog, A Tunisian Girl was frequently subjected to censorship and official condemnation. During the early weeks of the revolution, Ben Mhenni was present at Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine and Regueb providing many with first hand accounts of state violence against protesters in those towns.
Justice campaigners have long criticized Tunisia’s legal system, which like its French counterpart, is based on trial by judges and, without correct oversight, is open to abuse, reformers claim. Speaking To Tunisia Live, Zeid Dabbar spokesperson for the Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisens (SNJT) said that Ben Mhenni had been the “victim of Police aggression” and that,”When you speak with an officer, they can report you for insulting them under the present legislation.”
Dabbar continued, casting the case against Ben Mhenni as indicative of attitudes towards press freedom throughout Tunisian officialdom, “The press freedom is threatened by the law and political parties. The political leaders say that they believe in press freedom when they are running for office, but when they are in government they see the press as a thing that threatens them.”
Ben Mhenni’s case has received widespread support throughout civil society. Further to the SNJT, the Tunisian Center for Press Freedom, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, the Tunisian Association for the Defense of Academic Values and the Committee for the Respect of Freedoms and Human Rights in Tunisia have all expressed their support for the blogger.
While Ben Mhenni’s case is an unusually high profile one, Dabbar expressed concern that the same legislation was being used by security officers and officials against members of the general public, “Lina and journalists have the SNJT protecting them, but what about simple citizens? That is why we have to improve the legislation.”