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FREE-EXPRESSION ADVOCATE BARRED FROM LEAVING COUNTRY

Twice within a week, Tunisian authorities barred journalist and human rights advocate Sihem Bensedrine from flying to Vienna, on one occasion roughing her up and throwing her computer on the floor.

The Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 18 IFEX members, expressed anger at the violent treatment of Bensedrine, who is secretary-general of OLPEC, IFEX's member in Tunisia, and a member of the IFEX Council, IFEX's governing body. Bensedrine, who is also spokesperson of the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT) and founder of the underground newspaper "Kalima", has won several international awards, including the 2008 Danish Peace Award.

On 19 August 2008, police at Tunis-Carthage International Airport detained Bensedrine and prevented her from flying. After roughing her up, they ordered her to return home.

Five days later she was again prevented from flying to Austria, where she has a residency permit, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). "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 and her husband, Omar Mestiri, were attacked by border police in March, noted the Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC).

TMG members demanded that Bensedrine be allowed to cross freely into and out of Tunisia, according to her legal right as a Tunisian citizen. "This is completely outrageous behaviour to be meted out to any law-abiding citizen," said IFEX-TMG chair Rohan Jayasekera of Index on Censorship, "and particularly disgraceful that a woman should be treated so poorly at the hands of a group of police officers."

On 21 July, RSF reported that freelance journalist Slim Boukhdir was released from harsh prison conditions four months before his year-long sentence ended. Boukhdir, correspondent for the pan-Arab London-based newspaper "al Quds al Arabi" and several websites, thanked the international community for campaigning for his release.

Visit these links:
- TMG protest: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/96319/
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=28288
- Boukhdir released: http://tinyurl.com/6rjhds
- Boukhdir interviewed: http://tinyurl.com/5wdfkp
(27 August 2008)

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