21 February 2013

Tunisia: Govt Boosts Protection for Journalists, Politicians

Tunisia's interior ministry last week began to provide protection to journalists and political figures targeted by militants.

Opposition leader Chokri Belaid was not the only high profile leader that faced threats from extremists. Political figures and journalists also received death threats from religious radicals in recent weeks.

The measures included added security to homes as well as bodyguards for high profile figures, tunisienumerique.com reported on February 14th.

UNESCO released a statement the same day announcing a multi-week training for security forces on the safety of journalists. The statement came one day after the completion of its first class.

Facebook pages and websites considered close to salafist militants called for the elimination of a number of Tunisian personalities whom they described as "secular, infidel and anti-Islamic".

They were singled out on a black list that included many names, such as journalist and Ennahda opponent Taoufik Ben Brik, journalist Moez Ben Gharbia, writer Olfa Youssef, blogger Olfa Riahi and media figure Naoufel Ouertani.

Most death threats were directed at media figures who saw this move as another attempt to subdue the media and to shackle it.

A monitoring unit affiliated with the Tunis Centre for Press Freedom warned about violations against journalists. In a statement, it listed the assault and death threats suffered by journalists and photographers.

The unit documenting violations against Tunisian media mentioned in its February 11th statement that Mosaique FM received numerous threats targeting its journalists Naoufel Ouertani and Haythem El Mekki.

The threats come against the backdrop of their media reporting, which is apparently disliked by some hard-line parties, Naoufel Ouertani said in a press statement.

For his part, El Mekki confirmed that for a while now he has received a continuous flow of clear and explicit death threats and that they increased after Chokri Belaid's assassination.

These threats prove that journalists have become a target by virtue of the nature of their work and that their physical safety is at risk, El Mekki said.

He added that this would not make him change his positions. Even politicians and trade unionists did not escape from the hard-liners' threats.

Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) Secretary-General Hussein Abbasi received similar threats from unidentified elements following Belaid's assassination and the announcement of the general strike.

These elements are in possession of weapons, financing and previous terrorist experience, and have the ability to kill professionally, union spokesman Sami Tahiri said.

Opposition politician Ahmed Nejib Chebbi was assaulted after returning from Belaid's funeral. He also escaped an attempt on his life last year in the southern city of Zarzis that was called for by a salafist sheikh.

The Arab Network for Human Rights condemned the escalating and systematic violence against the Tunisian opposition in a February 10th statement.

"If the government of Ennahda wants to continue working and achieve its program, it has to support political tolerance in the country and renounce hate speech which has become widespread among opponents," the group said.

"Widespread video evidence can be seen on internet pages where a group of salafist leaders vow to shed the blood of Belaid and Chebbi," the statement added. In light of this reality, Tunisians warned against the persistence of militant threats and incitement against political and media figures in the country.

The Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights warned against religious calls and invitations that are contrary to human rights - as well as against their promotion in the media, social networks, mosques and public meetings.

The organisation further warned against the continuing threat of the assassination of political opposition figures.

"The continuing the policy of death threats confirms the growing influence of radical elements in the country," 42-year-old Tunis resident Chokri Louati told Magharebia.

"These elements use violence and religious extremism as a way to achieve their goals and eliminate their opponents and the government needs to protect the country's targeted elite," he added.

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