9 November 2006

Tunisia: Intelligence Services Go to Great Lengths to Prevent Visiting Algerian Journalist From Working

Meddi Adlène, of the Algerian daily "Al Watan", has been questioned, searched and followed by intelligence agents ever since he arrived in Tunisia on 1 November 2006 to write a series of reports and to interview Moncef Marzouki, the head of the Tunisian League of Human Rights, RSF reports.

"President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's fourth term in office is like the previous ones," the organisation said. "Journalists are still closely watched and controlled by the authorities and are kept on a very short leash. Foreign journalists are not usually subjected to physical reprisals but the Tunisian intelligence services go to extraordinary lengths to intimidate them and prevent them from working."

RSF added: "Nonetheless, the possibility of violence cannot be ruled out. Christophe Boltanski, a journalist working for the French daily 'Libération', was attacked and stabbed on 11 November 2005 near his hotel while policemen looked on without taking action. And many local human rights activists and lawyers, and their families, are subjected to all-out harassment."

Adlène has been constantly followed by a group of six plain-clothes policemen since his arrival in Tunisia, while police have been deployed around his hotel. His smallest actions and words are spied on, and his movements are monitored by policemen in cars and on motorcycles. Their aim is not to go unnoticed. On the contrary, they clearly want to intimidate the people he interviews so they will refuse to talk.

On Adlène's return from Sousse (140 km from Tunis), where he had gone to meet with Marzouki, an intelligence agent took a seat beside him in the collective taxi that brought him back to the capital and made several calls during the trip to confirm that he still had Adlène under surveillance. The taxi was stopped twice and its passengers were searched and questioned.

"We are used to having problems in Tunisia but this is really going too far," "Al Watan" editor Fayçal Métaoui said.

President Ben Ali, who has ruled Tunisia since 1987, is regarded by RSF as one of the world's 35 press freedom predators.

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