(Bloomberg) -- A Tunisian court jailed for defamation a reporter who’s one of President Kais Saied’s most prominent critics, renewing concerns of dwindling press freedoms ahead of this year’s elections.

A first instance court sentenced Mohamed Boughalleb, 60, to six months in prison after a civil servant sued him for a social-media post questioning government spending on travel. Boughalleb faced two charges under the country’s penal and telecommunications codes, the state-run TAP news agency reported. He will appeal the verdict.

A regular guest on the North African nation’s TV and radio stations, Boughalleb stepped up his criticisms after Saied assumed wide-ranging powers in July 2021, in a move opponents called a coup. He often took the president to task over his alleged failure to uphold pledges to protect justice and public freedoms.

Tunisian press union SNJT said the legal proceedings in Boughalleb’s case were “marred by many procedural violations.” Some 20 Tunisian reporters are currently facing trial for charges linked to their work, it says.

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The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists called for his unconditional release and the dropping of all charges. The case shows how Saied’s government “is determined to target local journalists and undermine freedom of the press,” the CPJ said before the verdict. 

Tunisia, the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, is expected to hold a presidential vote before the end of the 2024, although it’s yet to set a date.

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