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President's 20-year rule a textbook case of press censorship, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 5 November 2007 RSF press release:

A textbook case in press censorship for the past 20 years

In the run-up to 20th anniversary of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's takeover as president on 7 November 2007, the pro-government newspapers, which constitute most of the Tunisian press, have of course been praising the "president of change." The local media is making much of Tunisia's economic and social development and is ignoring civil liberties and human rights, which have been flouted for the past 20 years.

President Ben Ali enjoys the support of most western countries because they see him as a "bulwark against the Islamist threat." This is the case with the European Union, which signed an association accord with Tunisia in 1995 that is nothing like as binding on human rights issues as the accords reached with countries of the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific regions.

His first years as president saw an easing of political tension, but Ben Ali lost no time in reining in the media. The early 1990s and especially the first Gulf war marked the end of media diversity and free expression in Tunisia. Independent newspapers, which had been very active in the latter years of Habib Bourguiba's presidency, were closed one after another.

In the past 20 years, Ben Ali has neutralised all the checks and balances and brought them under his control, starting with the press and the justice system. At least 48 publications have been subjected to various forms of censorship (including seizure of issues, suspension and closure), half of them in his first six years in office.

During all these years, Ben Ali has never stopped silencing dissidents, both in the press and in civil society. Using either seduction, intimidation or repression, the authorities have taken over the main news media, which are nowadays managed by the government directly or by the regime's supporters.

For the complete press release, see:

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