Tunisian lawyers observed a strike on Monday May 13 in all the country’s courts to protest against the arrest of one of their colleagues at the bar’s headquarters, according to the National Order of Lawyers of Tunisia (ONAT). “The strike was respected 100%,” Laroussi Zguir, president of the capital’s bar association section, told the press.

This mobilization was decided after the arrest by force, Saturday evening, of the lawyer and columnist Sonia Dahmani in the premises of the ONAT in Tunis, where she had taken refuge after her summons to court for remarks that she had been on television.

During a program broadcast on May 7, Ms. Dahmani said ironically “what extraordinary country are we talking about? », in response to another columnist who had just stated that migrants from several sub-Saharan African countries were seeking to settle in Tunisia. An investigating judge issued a committal warrant against Ms. Dahmani on Monday without her being interviewed, said her lawyer, Dalila Msaddek. “The judge considered that the conditions within the court were not favorable to holding this hearing,” added the lawyer.

Two other columnists arrested

Denouncing a “magistracy under orders”, dozens of lawyers demonstrated in the morning in front of this same court – the court of first instance – to demand the “immediate” release of Ms. Dahmani, noted journalists from Agence France- Press.

On Saturday, plainclothes police officers wearing balaclavas entered the ONAT headquarters in Tunis, attacking lawyers and journalists before arresting Ms. Dahmani, according to videos and testimonies. According to her lawyers, the columnist is the subject of an investigation in particular for disseminating “false information with the aim of harming public safety” and “inciting hate speech”, under Decree-Law 54 .

This decree, promulgated in September 2022 by President Kaïs Saïed, punishes up to five years in prison for anyone who uses information and communication networks to “write, produce, broadcast [or] spread false news (…) in the purpose of violating the rights of others or harming public safety.”

During the night from Saturday to Sunday, two other well-known columnists were also arrested under this text, for statements in the media. An investigating judge extended their pre-trial detention by forty-eight hours.