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The IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 18 IFEX members, has condemned an assault by customs officials on two prominent human rights activists in Tunisia, including the head of IFEX's Tunisian member, on their way back from Europe last week.

Sihem Bensedrine, the secretary general of IFEX member the Observatory for the Freedom of the Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC), and her husband, Omar Mestiri, the managing editor of "Kalima" online newspaper, were held by customs for six hours on their arrival at La Goulette port on 3 March. Bensedrine was violently attacked, leaving bruises on her body. Both Bensedrine and Mestiri had their cell phones and documents confiscated and their hard discs copied from their laptops.

The assault follows a recent attack on Samia Abbou and Fatma Ksila, two women activists who were assaulted by police in Sousse on 18 February.

"I find it hard to believe that just days before International Women's Day, the government of Tunisia would sanction such a vicious attack on a woman," says IFEX-TMG chair Rohan Jayasekera. "Yet, it comes on the heels of recent attacks on two other women activists, not to mention numerous other attacks on women rights defenders, including Sihem."

Bensedrine, who was recently awarded the 2008 peace prize by the Danish Peace Foundation, has suffered verbal and physical abuse in the past, such as broken ribs and other injuries, including while in prison in 2001.

Bensedrine and Mestiri plan on registering a complaint against the customs agents for "brutality" and "false imprisonment."

"It is outrageous for a country which claims to be in the forefront of modernity in the region to carry out this kind of violent misuse of authority against Tunisian journalists and human rights activists in their own country," says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who ranks Tunisia 145 out of 169 countries in its worldwide press freedom index.

Visit these links:
- IFEX-TMG website:
- RSF:
(11 March 2008)

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