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Journalist attacked at Tunis Carthage Airport, barred from leaving country

(OLPEC/IFEX) - The following is a 19 August 2008 OLPEC press release:

Journalist Sihem Bensedrine attacked at Tunis Airport, barred from leaving country

Border police at Tunis-Carthage International Airport barred journalist Sihem Bensedrine from leaving the country as she prepared to board a Vienna-bound flight on 19 August 2008. After submitting to a thorough search of her handbag and a back pack containing her laptop, during which customs officials meticulously combed through personal documents, Bensedrine was told to follow the agents to an office. Finding no valid reason to do so, she refused, at which point several plainclothes men who did not identify themselves took over.

After being harassed for an hour, during which time the departure lounge cleared out, the journalist was met by a team of political police. The officers were hostile and rude to her, threatening to bar her from leaving the country if she did not obey their commands. When the flight had taken off, they rushed at her, jostling her and roughing her up until she fell to the floor. They then threw her backpack containing the laptop to the floor and out of her reach, along with her handbag and passport, all the while insulting her and ordering her to return home.

Bensedrine and her husband, Omar Mestiri, were victims of a similar attack by border police in March.

"Given that customs officials' search of Ms Bensedrine's bags left no reason to suspect her of any wrongdoing, the order by plainclothes officers, who did not identify themselves, that she follow them into their office was completely illegal, all the more so since Ms. Bensedrine was forced to endure similar harassment in March of this year at the port of La Goulette, an incident into which no enquiry has been opened despite her complaint before the court. This is a blatant violation of the principal of legality by which the administration is bound and which requires that it state its intended actions and justify them," said lawyer Raouf Ayadi.

OLPEC deplores this attack and denounces the arbitrary use of measures to bar the journalist from leaving the country. OLPEC demands that she cease to be harassed and that she enjoy full freedom of movement.

Naziha Rjiba
Vice President

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