28 July 2010

Tunisia: Journalists Harassed

The Tunisian authorities have in the past few days stepped up their harassment of journalists who dare to criticise the government and defend freedom of expression.

"We are very worried by the measures taken to intimidate journalists and restrict their fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression and assembly," Reporters Without Borders said. "The authorities are also trying to rein in criticism of journalist Fahem Boukadous' imprisonment. We reiterate our call for his immediate and unconditional release."

Poet and journalist Taoufik Ben Brik has been under house arrest for the past few days, after writing two articles for the French newspaper Nouvel Observateur about Tunisia's police state. A permanent cordon of plain-clothes police is preventing anyone from visiting his home.

Issue No. 555 of the opposition newspaper Al-Maoukef was seized on 16 July, just hours after it appeared on newsstands. It contained the text of a "Republican Pact" proposed by the opposition Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) and a satiric poem by Ben Brik dedicated to Boukadous, who had been arrested and jailed the previous day.

The authorities are also trying to stop online criticism of Boukadous' imprisonment. Blogger and journalist Zyad Al-Heni went to Gourjani police station in Tunis at 9 a.m. yesterday in response to a summons and was held until 4 p.m. without being interrogated or given any explanation.

The police threatened to issue another summons if they deemed it necessary. Al-Heni is clearly being harassed because of his articles in support of Boukadous. His latest blog entries have included a comment about a statement by Boukadous' wife and an open letter to the prosecutor in charge of the case.

The police prevented a seminar about the prospects for democratic dialogue from being held yesterday at Al-Maoukef's headquarter. None of the invited journalists and intellectuals was allowed to enter the building.

The latest wave of harassment, combined with the adoption on 1 July of a bill designed to criminalise the activities of Tunisian human rights defenders and Boukadous' arrest two weeks ago, suggest that the regime is becoming increasingly intolerant of journalists and others who defend basic freedoms.

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