New York May 13, 2009--Tunisian government efforts to force out the president of a critical journalists union is part of a campaign to eliminate independent media in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The campaign started on May 4 when a group of pro-government
journalists and followers of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali prevented National
Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (NSTJ) President Neji Bghouri from speaking during
a press conference in
Later that week, amid a wave of intimidation and pressure, three members of the NSTJ board who are close to the government resigned. They issued a petition backed by the Ministry of Communications calling for the withdrawal of confidence by members of the syndicate in its board and an extraordinary meeting to elect a new board.
"Either you sign the petition or take the risk of losing
your job," Bghouri told CPJ. "Privately owned
media are pressuring their journalists to sign the petition for fear of being
deprived of public support and advertising revenue." In
The syndicate issued a report critical of the state of press
"The Tunisian government must bring this shameful campaign
of intimidation of our colleagues and destabilization of their syndicate to an
immediate end," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle
The government's campaign primarily targets the president of the syndicate, which emerged last year out of the now-defunct Tunisian Association of Journalist (TAJ). TAJ used to be one of the most critical journalists' groups in the region before Ben Ali seized power in 1987. Bghouri angered top officials last year when he told local opposition papers that NSTJ would not back any presidential candidate in October elections. TAJ voiced its support for Ben Ali's candidacy in the presidential elections held in 1994, 1999, and 2004.
to Ben Ali in March, on the eve of the 53rd anniversary of