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Journalist Slim Boukhdir held in degrading conditions, denied medical care, starts hunger strike

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the degrading manner in which journalist Slim Boukhdir is being treated in Sfax prison (230 km south of Tunis), where he has decided to go on hunger strike again after catching scabies.

"Boukhdir is being held in conditions clearly designed to deprive him of his dignity, and this is unacceptable," the press freedom organisation said. "Other journalists detained in the past in Tunisia did not suffer the same fate. It was this aspect of the Tunisian regime that French President Nicolas Sarkozy unfortunately chose to hide during his latest official visit earlier this week."

Reporters Without Borders added: "Congratulating President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali for the progress Tunisia has made in human rights means closing one's eyes to all that Boukhdir and so many other prisoners of conscience have to endure."

As a result of being held in a cell that is not fit for habitation and not being allowed to take a shower for the past six weeks, Boukhdir has scabies, but the prison authorities are not giving him enough medicine to treat it.

His wife, Dalenda Boukhdir, said he has begun a new hunger strike in protest against the conditions in which he is being held. She also reported that prison guards are taking part of the contents of the bag of provisions which she takes to the prison for him each week.

Boukhdir's lawyer, Abdelwahab Maatar, is no longer being allowed to visit his client. Maatar has addressed six unsuccessful written requests to see Boukhdir to the judge in charge of sentence execution. Boukhdir's mother and wife were also prevented from visiting him on 25 April 2008. Only his two children, aged 2 and 6, were allowed to see him.

Arrested in November, Boukhdir is serving a one-year sentence for "insulting behaviour towards an official in the exercise of his duty," "violating decency" and "refusing to produce identity papers." The sentence was imposed on 4 December 2007 by the Sakiet Ezzit district court on the outskirts of Sfax and was upheld on appeal on 18 January.

Boukhdir used to work for the pro-government daily "Al-Chourouk", but his stories began being rejected and his salary was frozen in November 2005 after he wrote articles critical of the regime for the website of the pan-Arab satellite TV news station Al-Arabiya ( http://www.alarabiya.net ). This marked the beginning of a campaign of intimidation that culminated in his arrest in November 2007.

President Ben Ali is on the Reporters Without Borders list of the world's 34 worst press freedom predators.

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