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COMEDIAN FREED WHILE JOURNALIST'S JAIL SENTENCE UPHELD

The IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG) and the Observatory for the Freedom of the Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC) welcomed the release of a comedian who was jailed for two months for satirising Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Meanwhile, a prominent journalist who wrote critical articles of the President had his one-year sentence upheld in another high-profile case.

Comedian Hedi Ouled Baballah who was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 1,000 Dinars (US$800) for "possession of a classified narcotic substance" in February was freed on 20 March on the occasion of the country's 52nd anniversary of independence.

Ouled Baballah has consistently denied any knowledge of the drugs and referred to a police conspiracy against him following his latest sketch, a parody of President Ben Ali, which was circulated widely by mobile phone. After performing a similar sketch last year he was detained for three days and beaten while in police custody.

In a separate case, Tunisia's highest court of appeal upheld the one-year prison sentence of a journalist who had written articles critical of the President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family, report OLPEC and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

A correspondent of the London-based "Al Quds Al Arabi" newspaper and the Al-Arabiya TV station's website ( http://www.Al-Arabiya.net ), Slim Boukhdhir was arrested on the outskirts of Sfax on 26 November after an argument with police who were following him. He has now spent more than four months in Sfax prison and his health is deteriorating.

In Tunisia, dissidents are rarely charged for their political acts, but instead are falsely accused of more "dishonourable" offences, says OLPEC.

Tunisia has been in the international spotlight at the United Nations this past month. The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, recently reviewed Tunisia and expressed serious concerns about the curbs on freedom of expression.

On 8 April, Tunisia was highlighted at the first session of the UN Universal Periodic Review, a rigorous examination of the human rights records of UN member states. International PEN, the International Publishers Association (IPA) and the World Press Freedom Committee submitted documents for the review on behalf of IFEX-TMG.

Because non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are not permitted to take the floor at the review, Tunisian NGOs based in Switzerland organised a meeting against torture in Geneva on 7 April. IPA made a presentation at the meeting, co-sponsored by IFEX-TMG, to draw attention to Boukhdhir's case.

Visit these links:
- IFEX-TMG: http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg/index.html
- OLPEC on Baballah: http://tinyurl.com/3rw5k9
- RSF on Boukhdhir: http://tinyurl.com/4rffel
- Universal Periodic Review documents on Tunisia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/PAGES/TNSession1.aspx
(8 April 2008)

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