Many reactions erupted within the media scene in Tunisia, especially on social networking sites, after the ban of a TV program recorded on Thursday for the private Tunisia Channel, which hosted Saleem Chiboub, the son-in-law of former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
The Tunisians split into two groups, a group rejecting the appearance of whom they consider as followers of the former regime who were the “frontrunners in corruption and illegal enrichment” and demanding “the acceleration of their trial procedures instead of allowing them to talk to Tunisians”, while another group wanted the program to be broadcasted, considering their ban as a violation for the “freedom of expression”, and as a “dangerous precedent threatening the free and independent journalism” many activists have written on their Facebook pages.
The broadcasting of the program was put off as a result of an urgent complaint made by the general prosecutor. Human and legal rights sources stated to Al Arabiya net that “this ban is illegal, and the government does not have the right to intervene through the judiciary to suspend the program.”
On the same note, Tunisian Lawyer Majed al-Haj Ali confirmed for “al-Jarida” site that “this ban is not the first in Tunisia as it has happened previously, but regarding today’s case about the Tunisia channel and Saleem Chiboub, we should look for the reasons behind the intervention of the general prosecutor; were the country’s interests affected by the interview broadcast? Was the general prosecutor defending the interests of the state?”
He said that “basically, the general prosecutor has the right to do so if there is an interest in a public trial, and in this case there is no such thing.” Ali added that “the actions taken today by the court are considered as freedom of the press violation.”
According to some media disclosures, the program that was recorded in Dubai, has tackled Saleem Chiboub’s relations with transitional justice, holding him to account and the chances of his return to Tunisia. He also spoke about the “Espérance Sportive De Tunis” (Esperance sporting) team that he presided from 1989 till 2004. Some Tunisian websites have mentioned that Chiboub expressed his desire to return to Tunisia and that he is ready to be held accountable.
Some sources close to Tunisia Channel said the program’s host Moez Ben Gharbia, has been subject to pressure to prevent him from broadcasting this episode.
On the other hand, Najiba Hamrouni, the head of Tunisian Journalists Association said that the judicial decision to stop “al-Tasiaa” (at nine) program on the Tunisia Channel is “a scandal by all standards.”
Chiboub is the husband of Dorsaf, the daughter of former Tunisian President Ben Ali. He was a cafe owner even when Ben Ali came to power in Tunisia in 1987. Later on, he became one of the wealthy figures in Tunisia and presided over the famous Tunisian Esperance team between 1989 and 2004 in Tunisia, the Arab world and Africa.
Chiboub fled to the United Arab Emirates when President Ben Ali was overthrown on January 14th 2011. He was sentenced in absentia in March 2012, to five years in prison after being convicted of weapons’ possession without a permit.
The Tunisia Channel which is half owned by Belhassen Trabelsi, the brother of Ben Ali’s wife Leila Trabelsi, is now witnessing strained relations with the current government, which is headed by the Islamic Revival Party. The manager of the TV channel Belhassen Sami al-Fehri was arrested two months ago for financially damaging the public television during Ben Ali’s reign.