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Tunisia: blogger faces military trial for criticising hospital staff

Amnesty International is calling for charges to be dropped against a blogger due to stand trial for criticising staff at a military hospital in Tunisia.

The blogger, Hakim Ghanmi, is set to stand trial tomorrow at the Sfax Military Court, in south-eastern Tunisia, on charges of “undermining the reputation of the army”, “defamation of a public official” and “disturbing others through public communication networks”.

This relates to letter to the Minister of Defence Ghanmi published on his blog “Warakat Tounsia” last month. In the letter, Ghanmi complained about the actions of the director of the military hospital in Gabes, questioning what he claimed was the hospital’s refusal to receive a patient, his sister-in-law, despite her having an appointment. He also called for investigations into the hospital director for his treatment of patients. The hospital director filed a complaint against Ghanmi at the Sfax Military Court of First Instance. Ghanmi now faces up to three years in prison and a fine.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“The trial of Hakim Ghanmi is a new blow to freedom of expression in Tunisia.

“Putting him on trial at all violates his basic right to freedom of expression, but having to face a military court for posting on a blog is nothing short of shocking and violates Tunisia’s international human rights obligations. Civilians should not be tried in military courts.

“Hakim Ghanmi should be allowed to peacefully voice his criticism of the authorities and public institutions without having to fear harassment and retribution. The right to criticise the authorities and demand accountability is what Tunisians have fought and obtained so painfully.

“It is truly baffling that people are still prosecuted in Tunisia simply because some officials cannot bear criticism.”

Since the uprising that led to the toppling of former President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian authorities have harassed journalists, artists, bloggers and critics under articles in Tunisian legislation which criminalise defamation and expression deemed to threaten public order, public morals or sacred values.

Hakim Ghanmi is being charged under Article 91 of Code of Military Justice and Article 128 of the Penal Code, both of which were also recently used to hand down a four month suspended sentence against Ayoub Massoudi, a former presidential adviser who criticised the military. Ghanmi was also charged under Article 86 of the Telecommunication Code which was also used against blogger Jabeur Mejri who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in March 2012 for online posts deemed offensive to Islam and the prophet Mohamed.

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