Tunisia news site complains of harrassment over article

Tunis - The co-founder of a Tunisian news website said on Thursday he was questioned by authorities after the publication of an article about a presidential bid to promote a controversial draft law.

The article published by the Nawaat site on April 21 focussed on the bill adopted by the government in July last year that would grant an amnesty to people accused of corruption.

Sami Ben Gharbia, who is also editorial managing director at Nawaat, told AFP he was questioned on Wednesday by the Central Investigation Brigade of the National Guard.

He said investigators pressed him to reveal the source behind the article concerning the presidency's "strategy" to promote the draft legislation.

"I told them that my task was to protect the source, so they then asked me to reveal the names of all the journalists who worked on this article," said Ben Gharbia who refused to comply.

Nawaat said Ben Gharbia was interrogated for six hours, branding it as "harassment".

'Shameful proceedings'

"He was primarily questioned about the source of the Presidency of the Republic's leaked action plan lobbying for its 'economic and financial reconciliation draft law'," it said in a statement on its website.

"Nawaat condemns the harassment of its editorial team's director as well as the manifest intention of authorities to attack its journalists.

"We consider these shameful proceedings as a serious threat against the freedom of expression and the right to organise."

The journalists' union denounced "pressure by the presidency" while media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) staunchly denounced the questioning of Ben Gharbia.

A presidential source, contacted by AFP, denied any "pressure or intervention" from the president's office which they said respects "freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary".

The Nawaat article was based on the minutes of a meeting detailing the presidency "strategy" to back the so-called "economic reconciliation" bill.

Ben Gharbia's questioning came a day after Tunisian and international non-governmental organisations warned of deteriorating freedom of the press in a country considered to be a rare success story of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

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