His Excellency Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
President of the Republic of Tunisia
Via facsimile: +216-71-744-721
Dear Mr. President,
are increasingly concerned that acts of reprisal against critical journalists
continue without respite while your government repeats its unsubstantiated claim that the
Tunisian media landscape is "liberal and pluralistic." Indeed, it remains far
from being liberal or pluralistic, as U.S. Sen. John Kerry noted at the July 7
confirmation hearing of Ambassador Gordon Gray by the Senate Committee on
Foreign Relations. Kerry remarked that
research shows that no progress has been made toward ending drastic
restrictions on independent journalism and halting harassment and intimidation
of critical journalists and their families since our 2008 report, "The Smiling
Oppressor." In April, CPJ cited
poor freedom of expression record is all the more disheartening because
the gap between your repeated pledges to uphold
of critical journalists and their families. On July 2, unidentified individuals
broke into a small grocery shop owned by Afaf Bennacer, wife of journalist Fahem
Boukadous, on the outskirts of the southern city of
Boukadous went into hiding on July 5, 2008, to escape government persecution stemming from his coverage of social unrest in the south of the country for the satellite television station Al-Hiwar Al-Tunisi. On February 4, an appeals court in Gafsa upheld his six-year prison sentence for allegedly "belonging to a criminal association" and spreading material "likely to harm public order." Other Al-Hiwar Al-Tunisi correspondents, including Ayman Rezgui, have been harassed and briefly detained by police.
June 5, the home of Hamadi Jebali, editor of the now-defunct weekly Al-Fajr,
who was freed in 2006 after 15 years in prison, was surrounded by police without
explanation, the local human rights group Huriyya wa Insaf reported. Jebali
told CPJ that he and his wife remain under tight police surveillance and their
right to freedom of movement outside their hometown of
Jebali was first jailed in 1991 for publishing an article
calling for the abolition of military tribunals in
The plight of Abdallah
Zouari, a former reporter for Al-Fajr, remains
unchanged: He has been forced to live under "administrative control" and strict police surveillance hundreds
of miles from his family since his release from an 11-year prison term in 2002.
This month, he told CPJ that he hoped he would be allowed to live with his wife
and children in
with the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists. On May 4, a group of
pro-government journalists prevented
Neji Bghouri, president of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists, from
speaking during a press conference in
Journalists told CPJ that many reporters, fearful of losing their jobs, signed a petition backed by the Ministry of Communications that expressed no confidence in the syndicate's board and sought an extraordinary meeting to elect new members. State-controlled newspapers have echoed the position of pro-government journalists who announced that they would hold a meeting on August 15 to take control of the syndicate.
• Bureaucratic obstruction targeting critical journalists. Critical journalists must routinely wait many months for passports to be issued. In August 2008, CPJ wrote to you to protest the government's refusal since 2003 to grant a passport to the writer Slim Boukhdhir. To date, no explanation has been given about this gross violation of Boukhdhir's rights; the right to freedom of movement inside and outside one's country is enshrined in the Tunisian Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Boukhdhir, a journalist who writes for several Arabic Web sites and newspapers, served nearly a year in prison on baseless charges of insulting a public employee, violating "public decency," and refusing to hand over identification to police. His arrest in November 2007 occurred soon after he waged a hunger strike to protest the government's refusal to grant him a passport.
Rachid Khechana, editor of the opposition weekly Al-Mawkif and correspondent of the London-based daily Al-Hayat, told CPJ that he applied for a replacement of his lost passport on April 7, but was told by authorities that he might have to wait a year before getting a new one. The refusal to issue new passports to Khechana and his colleague at Al-Mawkif, Mohamed Hamrouni, is viewed by human rights lawyers as an unlawful response to critical writing. Hamrouni who is also correspondent to the Qatari daily Al-Arab, applied for a passport in May. Over the years, even critical Tunisian journalist living in exile have been kept waiting for months before having their passports renewed.
We urge you to take immediate and decisive action to end the harassment of independent journalists and to bring your government's practices in line with international standards for free expression.
Thank you for your attention to these pressing matters. We look forward to your reply.