(IFEX-TMG) - 7 July 2010 - A Tunisian appeals court confirmed on Tuesday the four-year prison sentence handed down earlier this year to journalist Fahem Boukaddous on charges stemming from his coverage of demonstrations in Gafsa in 2008.
The International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 20 IFEX members, strongly condemns the court ruling and urges the authorities to put an end to the shameful use of the judiciary to stifle free expression and punish critical journalists and to immediately respect their human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which they have ratified.
The charges brought against Boukaddous, which include "belonging to a criminal association" and "harming public order", appear to be yet another political manoeuvre aiming to silence criticism of Tunisian authorities.
Boukaddous was unable to make it to court on Tuesday as he was in a hospital in Sousse where he is being treated for respiratory problems.
"There are plain-clothes police agents in the hospital pressuring medical staff to release me so that they can take me to prison. Hospital staff are refusing to yield to their pressure", Boukaddous told the IFEX-TMG today.
Meanwhile, Radhia Nasraoui, one of his lawyers, denounced the court ruling as "harsh and unfair" and warned against the "dangerous consequences" of denying Boukaddous the "vital medical care he needs." She added that several political prisoners have died from a "lack of medical care" over the past years.
Boukaddous, a journalist with Al-Hiwar Al-Tunisi satellite television station, went into hiding in July 2008 after discovering that he was wanted by the Tunisian authorities. He was sentenced to six years in prison in December 2008.
In November 2009, Boukaddous emerged to challenge the sentence on the basis that he had been tried in absentia. A court overturned the previous ruling, but said that Boukaddous would again be tried on the same charges. In January of this year, the journalist was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison, which his lawyers appealed, without avail.
"The authorities are dragging an innocent sick man through hospitals, courts and jails out of sheer maliciousness. The state's failures in the region of Gafsa in 2008 were fairly exposed by a good journalist and now it is making him suffer for its incompetence," said IFEX-TMG Chair Rohan Jayasekera of Index on Censorship. "Their EU partners must speak out and condemn Tunisia for institutionalizing state censorship in this way."
The IFEX-TMG's latest report based on a fact-finding to Tunisia, which was launched in June in Beirut, shed light on the alarming use of the judiciary to undermine basic human rights and the country's declining freedom of expression record: http://ifex.org/tunisia/2010/06/07/tmg_report/
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Media Institute of Southern Africa
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee