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IFEX-TMG calls for release of journalist Slim Boukhdir, facing trial on 18 January 2008

(IFEX-TMG) - The following is an IFEX-TMG press release:

IFEX-TMG Calls for Release of Tunisian Journalist Slim Boukhdir, facing trial on 18 January

The Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 18 member organisations of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) network, urges the Tunisian government to release journalist Slim Boukhdhir and turn for good the page of settling scores with critical reporters and dissidents. The TMG has requested lawyer Mohamed Abbou to observe the trial on its behalf. Abbou, a former prisoner of opinion released in July, is a member of Boukhdir's legal team.

Boukhdhir is due to appear on Friday 18 January before a court of appeal in the suburbs of Sfax, Tunisia's second largest city. His lawyers are challenging an unfair court decision that sent him to prison for one year on 4 December allegedly for "assaulting a government employee in the exercise of his duty" and "breach of decent behavior."

Boukhdhir's lawyers, as well as representatives of local and international human rights groups who observed the trial, denounced judicial procedural flaws and reported that his main crime was apparently his critical articles for international media and news websites, blocked locally, on President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the first lady's family.

His arrest occurred on 26 November in Sfax, while on his way to Tunis for a scheduled meeting with a police officer handling his application for a new passport. Boukhdir went on hunger strike in November and December respectively to protest the Tunisian authorities' denial to issue his passport and to protest the squalid prison conditions and harassment by prison guards and inmates.

"The Tunisian government should stop using the judicial system to silence and punish its critics. We are deeply disturbed by the results of academic research showing that there was more tolerance for freedom of expression and association under the French occupation more than 50 years ago than under President Ben Ali's rule," said Rohan Jayasekera of Index on Censorship, TMG chair.

Professor Mohamed Talbi, former dean of the Faculty of Arts in Tunis and currently head of the Tunis-based IFEX member, the Observatory for Press Freedom, Publishing and Creation (OLPEC) was among prominent Tunisian and international researchers who came to this rather saddening conclusion.

TMG has conducted a series of fact-finding missions in Tunisia since January 2005 and issued four reports and several alerts about the Tunisian government's unrelenting attacks on freedom of association and expression and determination to ban or cripple independent groups and silence dissidents and critical journalists.

"We call on the Tunisian government to immediately release Slim Boukhdhir, who has done nothing wrong to be abruptly and unfairly thrown into a squalid prison cell away from his wife and two small children," said Jayasekera.

Members of the IFEX-TMG:

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRINFO), Egypt
ARTICLE 19, United Kingdom
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Cartoonists Rights Network (CRN), United States
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Index on Censorship, United Kingdom
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Belgium
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), Netherlands
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
International Publishers' Association (IPA), Switzerland
Journaliste en danger (JED), Democratic Republic of Congo
Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Norwegian PEN, Norway
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), Canada
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), United States
Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC), United Kingdom

IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group

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