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TV journalist assaulted by plainclothes police; human rights lawyer prevented from flying to London

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is outraged by a physical attack on journalist Aymen Rezgui of the privately-owned satellite TV station Al-Hiwar Attounsi in the centre of Tunis on 24 August 2007. In a separate development, human rights lawyer Mohammed Abbou was refused permission to travel to London to be interviewed by the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera.

"This latest attack shows how determined the Tunisian authorities are to prevent independent journalists from working," the press freedom organisation said. "Journalists like Rezgui are constantly watched and harassed. This is not the first time he has been assaulted and had his equipment seized. It is all the more appalling that this took place in broad daylight in front of many witnesses."

Reporters Without Borders added: "We also call on the Tunisian authorities to put an end to their persecution of Abbou, who was released just one month ago after being unjustly forced to spend nearly two and a half years in prison. He continues to be punished for speaking out".

Rezgui was leaving a news conference given by the opposition Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) at its headquarters in the centre of Tunis when he was assaulted by about 10 plain-clothes policemen, sustaining an injury to his hand. His camera and all his notes were confiscated. The PDP had accused the government of trying to prevent a legal rally of the party's youth wing on 25 and 26 August by banning it from using public spaces.

Al-Hiwar Attounsi director Tahar Ben Hassine recently spoke to Reporters Without Borders about his fears about the use of physical violence against himself and his staff. Police went to his home on 15 and 16 August and questioned his housekeeper. Ben Hassine intended to file a complaint against the police for "attempted intrusion."

Abbou, whose release from prison was conditional, was told that he is "banned from travelling" when he went to Tunis-Carthage airport on 24 August to fly to London to record an interview in Al-Jazeera's studios for a programme on free expression and human rights. Abbou said there are no legal grounds for such a ban.

Abbou had told Agence France-Presse on 22 August that he suspected he might not be allowed to leave the country following the mysterious disappearance of a sizable sum of money that had been sent to him through Western Union by the human rights group Frontline for an upcoming visit to France (for further information on the past persecution of Abbou, see IFEX alerts of 25 July and 5 March 2007, 8 December, 8 May, 26 and 21 April 2006, and others).

Reporters Without Borders has included President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on its list of the world's 34 worst "press freedom predators."

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