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Journalist Slim Boukhdir released

(RSF/IFEX) - On 21 July 2008, Reporters Without Borders voiced its relief at the news of the release of Slim Boukhdir four months before the end of his sentence. The freelance journalist has been held since 26 November 2007 in very harsh prison conditions at the civil jail in Sfax, 230 kilometres south of the capital.

Boukhdir, 39, is correspondent for the pan-Arab London-based newspaper "al Quds al Arabi" and for the website of satellite television station al-Arabiya. He also posts articles on several websites, particularly Tunisnews and Kantara.

"We are absolutely delighted at the release of Slim Boukhdir. Like Mohammed Abbu before him, he should never have been in prison in the first place," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"He was deprived of his freedom for 238 days and treated like a common criminal simply for constantly exposing the abuses of power. We would like to see the decision of the Tunisian authorities to free him as evidence of their goodwill", it added.

"The Tunisian state must put an end to the harassment of independent journalists and their families and to seizures of the opposition and foreign press. The authorities should also allow free access to the Internet so as to create a space for freedom and to ensure free expression in Tunisia".

Boukhdir, who was released in the late afternoon on 21 July, told Reporters Without Borders that he wanted to thank the international community which campaigned for his release. Despite harsh jail conditions - poor hygiene, threats from his fellow prisoners and deprivation of letters and independent newspapers - the journalist said that he had "kept his spirits up high".

He was arrested on 26 November 2007 during a check on papers of passengers using a collective taxi between Sfax and Tunis. He was immediately taken before a cantonal court in Sakiet Ezzit in the Sfax suburbs and sentenced, at the end of an unfair trial, to a year in prison for "insulting an official in the exercise of his duty", "breach of accepted standards of behaviour" and "refusing to produce his identity papers for police". On the day of his arrest, he was travelling to the capital to reclaim his passport, which he had been deprived of since 2004.

Updates the Boukhdir case:

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