Tunisians took to the streets in two separate rounds of protests in the country in January 2018. The first series of demonstrations revealed deep public outrage at the institution of the 2018 Finance Act, which rolled-out a series of austerity measures that impose hefty taxes on everyday goods and services. The government responded swiftly and brutally to the these protests, using tear gas on civilians and arresting over 770 protesters.
Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Trabelsi announced on January 13 that the government plans to introduce reforms targeting Tunisia’s economically underprivileged. CNN reported that these reforms do not alter the 2018 Finance Act but include various measures to remedy the economic hardship Tunisians are expecting to face following the passage of the act.
Throughout the first set of protests, the government detained several journalists. Film equipment containing footage of police brutality was also confiscated, according to News24. Minister of the Interior Lot Brahem admitted that the Tunisian government wiretaps journalists, stating that his ministry will not hesitate to prosecute bloggers or journalists who “doubt the integrity of security institutions and undermine the morale of security forces.” The government’s reaction to these protests prompted the second round of demonstrations, including a media sit-in in the capital, Tunis, on February 2.
Fred Bobin, president of the North African Foreign Correspondents’ Club, likened the present situation to the government’s limits on press freedom before the 2011 toppling of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine. Bobin told Al-Monitor, “These incidents illustrate the awakening of the security organization’s old reflexes toward the press in general. It’s a culture of police control that was considered over a er the revolution but that persists and rises back up to the surface.”