World Press Freedom Day in the Middle East and North Africa
Tunisian journalists were in mourning for World Press Freedom Day, says the Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation (OLPEC), noting that a number of critical journalists, including Naziha Rejiba, Slim Boukhdhir and Lotfi Hidouri, were unable to even leave their houses on 3 May due to a heavy police presence. OLPEC released a report summarising the numerous ways in which freedom of expression is violated in Tunisia including censorship of websites and blogs, defamation campaigns against critical journalists and activists, and the arrest and detention of others. Many attacks occurred against independent journalists and opposition press surrounding the re-election in October of President Zine Abidine Ben Ali, who retained an almost 100 percent monopoly of coverage in the press during the elections. OLPEC says the media in Tunisia is neither free nor pluralistic. "Despite the 306 newspapers officially licensed, there does not exist one single independent newspaper in Tunisia; all the independent papers were eradicated in 1990 and not one has been authorised to publish since, despite the repeated efforts of a number of journalists."
During the fact-finding mission being conducted by the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) in Tunisia this week and last, TMG mission leader Amadou Kanoute of ARTICLE 19 spoke at a roundtable organised by the opposition weekly "El Mawkif" to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. Although many journalists were prevented from attending, there were at least 50 people at the Monday event, including journalists, political leaders, human rights activists and diplomats. Among those speaking was Néji Bghouri of the legitimate board of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT). The TMG mission highlighted the plight of "local journalists who have applied for radio frequencies for more than 23 years and got no replies, judges who have been removed from their positions and sent hundreds of kilometres away from their families for requesting a margin of freedom to discharge their duty in good conscience and bloggers whose sites are hacked before being sent to jail."