(NEW YORK) –– The reported arrest of Tunisian poet and scholar Sami Dhibi is another sign of a widening crackdown on dissent and free expression in the country, PEN America said today. Dhibi was arrested on Sunday as the result of the minister of cultural affairs’ complaint over a Facebook post in which Dhibi criticized the ministry.

Justin Shilad, Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy lead at PEN America, said:  “Dhibi’s arrest is a sign of a government afraid of its own people, and its own country’s cultural life. Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed Tunisian authorities seize books from book festivals, incite racist attacks against migrants and detain anyone from critical journalists to students singing satirical songs. Now, the Tunisian government has gone after a prominent poet for daring to criticize a public official. Tunisian authorities must release Sami Dhibi immediately.” 

Dhibi was arrested under a law that criminalizes the sharing of false news online. Under the law, which Tunisian President Kais Saied issued by decree in September 2022, anyone found guilty of “spreading false information” faces a prison sentence of up to five years, or up to 10 years if the speech concerns a government official.

Under Saied, Tunisia has witnessed a broad crackdown on dissent and free expression in recent months, including the arrest of poet and opposition activist Chaima Issa and journalist Zied el-Heni, the seizure of Kamel Riahi’s book The Tunisian Frankenstein from the Tunis International Book Fair, and an incitement campaign resulting in violent attacks against Black Tunisians and migrants.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057