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Independent journalist Sihem Bensedrine again prevented from boarding flight to Europe

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the Tunisian government's repeated humiliation of journalist Sihem Bensedrine, the founder of the underground newspaper "Kalima". On 24 August 2008, She was again prevented from boarding a flight from Tunis-Carthage airport to Austria, where she has a residency permit. It was the third time this year that she has been prevented from leaving Tunisia.

"She was stopped on 19 August as she was going through immigration, while today she was stopped later, at the boarding gate," Reporters Without Borders said. "This kind of pettiness shows to what lengths the authorities are prepared to go to harass someone whose only crime is to oppose President Zine Ben Ali, a notorious predator of press freedom."

The press freedom organisation added: "How much more humiliation will Bensedrine have to endure before Europe's foreign ministries, including the French one, stop being so lenient with the Tunisian regime? Bensedrine should also be getting support from the European Union and its French president in her capacity as a journalist who has residency in Austria."

While still at Tunis-Carthage airport, Bensedrine told Reporters Without Borders: "I had just gone through the police and immigration controls and I was about to go through the security gate just before the boarding bridge to the plane when immigrations officers intercepted me and asked me to accompany them to their office without giving me any explanation. I refused, saying no other passenger was being given the same treatment."

In March, Bensedrine and her husband, Omar Mestiri, were detained for six hours by customs officials at La Goulette port in Tunis. They were taken to a police station and were roughed up in a room where no one could see them.

On 19 August, Bensedrine was stopped by men in civilian dress as she was about to go through the immigration check at Tunis-Carthage airport in order to board a flight to Vienna. They asked her to accompany them to her office and when she refused, they confiscated her passport and boarding card, and the plane left without her.

"My passport was returned to me with the word 'cancelled' on the exit stamp that I had been given just before by immigration," Bensedrine said. "In effect, this is a ban on leaving the country even if the authorities keep denying it."

Bensedrine's underground newspaper "Kalima" is now an online multimedia platform with content supplied from abroad. In a recent "Kalima" editorial, Bensedrine criticised the government's decision to allow building at the Carthage archaeological site.

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