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JOURNALIST'S LIBEL CASE SUSPENDED; LAWYER'S OFFICE UP IN FLAMES

The day after the defamation case against Tunisian editor Omar Mestiri was suspended, one of his lawyer's offices was torched, report the Observatory for Freedom of the Press, Publishing and Creation (Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation, OLPEC) and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo).

Omar Mestiri, managing editor of the online magazine "Kalima", was charged with defamation and faced up to three years in jail for a September 2006 article that criticised the reinstatement of a lawyer who had been convicted of fraud and forgery. But the lawyer who filed the case withdrew his complaint on 28 August, and the court decided to suspend the case two days later.

The following day, unidentified individuals set fire to the office of Ayachi Hammami, one of Mestiri's lawyers and a prominent human rights defender in his own right.

When Hammami arrived at work on 31 August, he found his office up in flames. Most of Hammami's books and documents, including his client's files, were destroyed, along with his personal computer.

Hammami believes he was targeted because of his work on a report about Tunisia's judiciary that was to be presented at a seminar organised by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) in Paris in September. "This is a political fire and crime," he told OLPEC.

Hammami was one of the eight Tunisian human rights activists who went on hunger strike from 18 October to mid-November 2005 to draw the attention of the international community to the rising attacks on freedom of expression and association on the eve of the Tunisia-hosted World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Many of the hunger strikers had congregated in Hammami's centrally located office in Tunis.

Visit these links:
- OLPEC: http://tinyurl.com/3cwzcy
- HRinfo: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/86006/
- "IFEX Communiqué" on Mestiri: http://tinyurl.com/2rl3k5
- Tunisian Monitoring Group: http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg/
- EMHRN: http://www.euromedrights.net/
(4 September 2007)

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