COVID-19 media gag on Tunisia medics draws criticism
TUNIS — Amnesty International and Tunisia’s medical association Tuesday urged the government to allow health workers full freedom of expression, after authorities said medics must be pre-authorized to speak publicly about the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite controversy, the health ministry on Friday published a list of medics and health officials authorized to make declarations on the topic to the media or on social networks.
Amnesty International said the restrictions were “unnecessary and disproportionate and are clearly inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression”.
“This ministerial order is a blatant attempt by Tunisia’s authorities to censor health workers and silence critics of the government’s Covid-19 response,” Amna Guellali, Amnesty’s deputy regional director, said in a statement.
Tunisia’s national medical association Tuesday also expressed support for “doctors’ right to state their views in their area of expertise and according to established scientific data”.
The government order came as Tunisia has been facing an unprecedented increase in coronavirus-related hospitalizations that has overwhelmed some intensive care units, and as the number of officially registered Covid-19 deaths approaches 10,000, in a country of around 11 million.
The government has closed schools and an overnight curfew is in place from 10:00 pm, with vehicles prohibited from circulating from 7:00 pm.
“Over the last three years we have seen worrying signs of regression when it comes to freedom of expression,” Guellali said.
“This latest decision is the latest sign of regression and must be immediately withdrawn.”
Tunisia’s 2011 revolution sparked major advances in freedom of expression and political freedoms, but the police and justice systems have seen few reforms.
Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Tunisia 73 out of 180 countries in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index published Tuesday, dropping one place compared to last year.
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