Tunisian TV channel owner jailed

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 30, 2012 12:33 PM
Tunisian TV channel owner jailed

TUNIS (Reuters) - The owner of a private television channel was jailed in Tunisia on Thursday pending trial for corruption, an official said, in a case he has described as an attempt to stifle the media.

Sami Fehri, who launched the channel in partnership with Belhassen Trabelsi, the son-in-law of former President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, handed himself over to the authorities after an arrest warrant was issued a few days ago.

In an Internet video broadcast shortly before, he said the government was punishing for him for a comedy program on his channel that mocks symbols of power - thereby muffling the media and giving up gains made when Ben Ali was ousted last year.

"The only winner of the Tunisian revolution is freedom of expression, and freedom of expression is threatened today," Fehri said.

"Tounissia tv" broadcast a satirical program called "Political Logic" which made fun of Tunisia's President Moncef Marzouki, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Islamic Ennahda party.

"We believe that this is an attack on the freedom of expression," Fehri's defense lawyer Sonia Dahmani told Reuters. "The issue is political and came after weeks of pressure on Fehri and the airing of the program on the channel."

A Justice Ministry official told Reuters an arrest warrant had been issued on charges of corruption. "Fehri was presented to authorities today and he was transferred to prison according to the law." He denied political considerations were involved.

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The government has faced criticism for seeking to control the media.

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) criticized Fehri's detention, saying in a statement that defects in procedures had accelerated the issue of his arrest warrant. It called for a fair trial without government interference.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Myra MacDonald)