|During little more than a decade in power, President Zine Abdine Ben
Ali has reduced Tunisia's once-respectable press to one of the most restricted
in the Arab world. On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, CPJ named Ben Ali
as one of the world's 10 worst
Enemies of the Press. Tunisian journalists continue to operate in a
climate of fear, practicing near-total self-censorship on a host of political
and social issues. Indeed, independent-minded journalists over the years
have experienced swift government reprisal for their reporting. Attempts
to cover such sensitive topics as human rights and the activities or viewpoints
of the political opposition have resulted in intimidation, prosecution,
and imprisonment of offending journalists. Others have been dismissed from
their jobs, denied accreditation, and barred from leaving the country for
what authorities perceived as critical coverage. As a result, journalists
today avoid criticism of even the most benign political topics, leading
to a banal press largely devoid of substantive news coverage.
Since self-censorship has become virtually universal, the government has
little cause to actively harass journalists. But when journalists do cross
the boundaries of accepted journalism, authorities are quick to respond.
On June 18, the Ministry of Interior summoned Taoufik Ben Brik, a correspondent
for the Paris-based daily La Croix, following the publication
of an article about police harassment. An official accused Ben Brik of
writing "subversive" material and urged him to stop working as
The local press has not been the only target of state reprisal. This year,
authorities maintained their hold on the flow of information, once again
banning foreign publications entering the county. The London-based daily Al-Quds
al-Arabi, for example, estimates that the paper was banned an average
of three to five times a month. Issues of the French-language Le
Monde were also confiscated during the year.
Along with its muzzling of the press, the government oversees one of the
more sophisticated public relations programs, extolling Ben Ali for his
purported human rights achievements. A government-run website, www.amnesty-tunisia.org,
proclaims that Tunisia has "distinguish[ed] itself in a striking way
by its exemplary work in the domains of Human Rights, freedom of expression
and public liberties." Authorities have gone to even greater lengths
to protect their image by banning Internet access to websites that contain
information critical of the regime, like that of Amnesty International.
At year's end, Hamadi Jebali and Abdellah Zouari, journalists with the
now-defunct weekly Al-Fajr who have been imprisoned since 1991,
remained behind bars.