Freedom of Expression in the Maghreb: Tensions between Laws and the Judiciary Practice

Although much of the Middle East and North Africa has seen a marked shift over the past years toward unstable authoritarianism and violent conflict following the region’s popular uprisings, significant gains have however been achieved since 2011.

Many of these gains have been driven by media communities and civil society, now battling new forms of control and repression. Nonetheless, many reform-oriented actors still operate in a space that, while confined, in most cases barely existed before.

Following the 2011 uprisings, new constitutional and legal guarantees for freedom of expression and media freedoms were introduced in Maghreb countries. Yet, the rights and freedoms the new laws affirm remain challenged by the hostility of duty-bearers and a hardly reformed judiciary practice. Moreover, those rights and their advocates are increasingly misrepresented as threats to stability and security in the MENA region and globally.

Whereas prospects of effectively reforming the media’s legal framework and the judiciary practice in favour of freedom of expression and safety of journalists seem limited in the years to come, there is, however, space and determination to advance an agenda for enhancing legal and structural reforms.

The four countries concerned in this publication – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya - each has a complex set of challenges - and opportunities - in relation to the advancement of free and independent media. Yet, they share several trends and certainly the tensions between laws pertaining to freedom of expression, political actors and the judiciary practice.

Four legal experts have taken up the challenge to briefly introduce in this study both the legal frameworks and the tension points, and to formulate key recommendations to address the deficiencies in law or practice. These recommendations are a means by which non-governmental organisations and rights defenders can pursue their critical advocacy work.

This publication is the result of a partnership between the Tunisian association Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State, also known in Arabic as Yakadha, and International Media Support (IMS). It falls under the MENA Media Law Reform initiative (, which functions as a central forum, bringing together legal experts, civil society organisations and other stakeholders to address and advocate for much needed legal and regulatory reforms of the media.

It is an effort and a tool to bring clarity, raise broader awareness and engagement, and inform advocacy campaigns.