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IFEX MEMBERS PROTEST PRESIDENT BEN ALI'S 20 YEARS IN POWER

While pro-government papers praise the "president of change" on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Tunisian President Zein Alabideen Ben Ali's rule on 7 November, the Arabic Network for Human Rights (HRInfo) will reveal the names of Egyptian publications that have continued to print paid ads as news articles that show Tunisia and Ben Ali as models of democracy. It's just one of the actions by IFEX members and partners to protest Ben Ali's 20-year dictatorship.

HRInfo's report, "Who Pays the Price?", reveals the name of eight newspapers and magazines - including at the national level - involved in publishing paid ads as editorial materials that offer idealistic images of Tunisia, its human rights record and the democratic developments the country achieved under Ben Ali.

"The report is intended to be an apology made to Tunisian activists and journalists for the Egyptian media's obfuscation of their writings, while on the other hand illuminating how the media shows through these advertisements a totally unrealistic and different picture drawn by Tunisian officials," says Gamal Eid, director of HRInfo.

HRInfo's report is being released in Cairo on 8 November and English and Arabic copies will be available on HRInfo's website on the same day. Check out: http://openarab.net/en/reports/tunisia2007/tunisia.shtml

Meanwhile, prominent lawyer and writer Mohamed Abbou, recently released from jail after spending more than two years in jail for exposing torture in Tunisian prisons on the Internet, has written an opinion piece called "Twenty Years of Suffering" to protest Ben Ali's anniversary.

Abbou writes, "The Tunisian regime spreads fear among its citizens in order to reinforce its power. When I dared denounce the reality of the situation that prevails in Tunisia, I broke a taboo by denouncing the scandals and by evoking corruption. That's when the regime decided to hit the interests of my family and to persecute my family. Then it threw me in jail, seeking to humiliate me." Read it here:
- English: http://tinyurl.com/2nd829
- French: http://tinyurl.com/2wfajb
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) has released its own retrospective of Ben Ali's rule, which explains why the president makes RSF's list of worst press freedom predators worldwide. RSF recounts how Ben Ali, largely supported by the West because he is seen as a "bulwark against the Islamic threat," has gotten away with flouting civil liberties and human rights and nearly wiping out dissidents in the media and civil society.

RSF details some of Ben Ali's tactics, like refusing to grant publishers the materials, permits and ads they need to get on the newsstands; scrutinising emails and Internet cafés; banning websites; refusing to accredit foreign journalists; and using pro-government media to attack regime opponents. Read "A textbook case in press censorship for the past 20 years" here:
http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24264
Amnesty International has also issued a human rights briefing on Ben Ali's two decades in power. Read it here: http://news.amnesty.org/index/ENGMDE300102007

IFEX's Tunisia Monitoring Group, with Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, Amnesty International-USA and the International Federation for Human Rights, is hosting an event on 13 November in Washington, D.C. that will examine Tunisia's human rights record and make recommendations for improvement. For more info, see: http://tinyurl.com/3cfm6v

Also check out the IFEX TMG website for the latest news on the anniversary: http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg/index.html

(6 November 2007)

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