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TV reporter sentenced in absentia to six years in prison for covering demonstrations

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has learned that a court in Gafsa (350 km south of Tunis) sentenced reporter Fahem Boukadous in absentia on 11 December 2008 to six years in prison on a charge of "forming a criminal association liable to attack persons and their property" for covering demonstrations in the Gafsa mining region.

Boukadous works for Al-Hiwar Attounsi, a privately-owned TV station based in Italy that broadcasts to Tunisia.

"This harsh sentence is yet another example of the arbitrary manner in which all those who upset the authorities are treated," Reporters Without Borders said. "Journalism is a high-risk profession in Tunisia. The judicial system is subservient to the government led by President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and is always ready to convict anyone who could oppose the regime. Boukadous was just doing his job as a reporter."

Boukadous' lawyer, Abderraouf al-Ayadi, told Reporters Without Borders the aim of the sentence was to prevent Boukadous from working as a journalist. "Fahem Boukadous never participated in the protests," he said. "He just sent footage of the incidents in the Gafsa mining region to the TV station."

The lawyer added: "The police reports criticise Boukadous for his coverage of the protests, but Tunisian law does not punish TV broadcasts or working as a journalist. This decision was designed to sow terror among Tunisian journalists."

Updates the Boukadous case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/98501

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