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IFEX-TMG members alarmed by resurgence of Internet censorship and arrests

(IFEX-TMG) - 9 June 2011 - The International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 21 IFEX members, is alarmed by the arrest and the charges facing outspoken policeman Samir Feriani, and what seems to be the resurgence of Internet censorship.

Feriani, a Senior Police Commissioner, was arrested on 29 May in an unusual manner after a car crashed into his car forcing him to stop. He has been detained since then on charges related to a strongly-worded letter to Interior Minister Habib Essid in which he criticised the intelligence agency in Tunisia and the Ministry of Interior, blaming current officials for allowing protesters to be killed during the revolution, and saying that "notorious torturers" remain at large. Feriani also alleged corruption in the ministry and said he was subjected to intimidation after sending a petition to the Minister about the destruction of official records, including some taken from the residence of the late Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Leader Yasser Arafat. His accusations were reported in two newspapers, "El Khabir" ("The Expert") and "l'Audace" ("The Bold One").

Feriani was taken on 2 June before an investigative judge of the Military court at Bab Saadoun and is facing charges under the penal code of "harming the external security of the state," distributing information "likely to harm public order," and "accusing, without proof, a public agent of violating the law." If convicted, he could face prison.

Feriani had also criticised the crackdown on websites deemed critical of the army. This resurgence of Internet censorship lead to the resignation of blogger and political activist Slim Amamou from his post as Secretary of State for Youth and Sport on 23 May. The resignation came in protest over the closure of four websites at the request of the Tunisian army.

Also last month, the police brutally cracked down on a peaceful protest on 6 May by journalists, beating some of them up and arresting them. The following day, during another demonstration in support of the journalists, police broke the arm of Najib Abidi, a fixer hired for the IFEX-TMG mission in April by IFEX member the Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création (OLPEC).

"This looks like a return to the kind of bad habits that we had hoped the Tunisian revolution had done away with," said IFEX-TMG Chair Rohan Jayasekera, Associate Editor of Index on Censorship.

"Recalling the Prime Minister's recent pledges of support for a free media in meetings with the IFEX-TMG, we urge him to continue to defend the right of the press to represent all opinions, especially in the public interest," said Virginie Jouan, representing the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the mission leader.

"Feriani must be immediately released," Jayasekera added, "and the Prime Minister must act to prevent factions from further abusing the free speech rights of Tunisian citizens in the run-up to free elections."

For more on IFEX-TMG, visit http://ifex.org/tunisia/tmg/ or find IFEX-TMG at http://www.facebook.com/IFEXTMG and on Twitter @TunisiaMonitor

IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
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
Freedom House
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

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