Tunisia frees prominent journalist after two days detention

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A Tunisian judge on Thursday ordered the release of prominent journalist Zied Heni two days after he was arrested over accusations he had insulted President Kais Saied.

His release followed a campaign of solidarity with him and criticism that the authorities were clamping down on freedom of speech, a key gain won by Tunisians after the 2011 revolution that ended the authoritarian rule of the late President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Saied seized extra powers in 2021 when he shutdown the elected parliament and moved to rule by decree and then assumed authority over the judiciary.

“What happened was a stupid attempt to intimidate me and silence my voice, but that will not happen.”, Zied Heni, a critic of Saied, told reporters when he left the Tunis court after his release.

“I tell them that you are not confronting only Heni, but rather you are confronting a profession and journalists who are committed to their freedom and independence,” he said.

Judges have detained or opened investigations into more than 20 political, judicial, media and business figures with opposition ties over recent months, accusing some of plotting against state security.

The main opposition parties have decried the arrests as politically motivated and rights groups have urged authorities to free those detained.

Saied has described the detainees as terrorists, criminals and traitors, and says judges who free them would be abetting their alleged crimes. He rejects accusations that he is targeting freedoms and says he will not be a dictator.