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Independent TV reporter wanted by police for coverage of unrest in mining region

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders calls for the withdrawal of the charges brought against Fahem Boukadous, a reporter for the independent Tunisian television station Al-Hiwar Attounsi. Boukadous, who went into hiding on 5 July 2008, is wanted by the authorities on charges of "belonging to a criminal association" and "spreading reports liable to disrupt public order" for his coverage of protests earlier this year in the Gafsa mining region, 350 km south of Tunis, and because he put foreign news media in contact with labour leaders in the region.

Radhia Nasraoui, a lawyer who heads the Association for Combating Torture in Tunisia (ALTT), told a Reporters Without Borders delegation in Tunis in 11 November: "The indictment accuses Boukadous of establishing contacts with the demonstrators for his reporting. Whenever his name is mentioned, it is in connection with his work as a journalist."

Reporters Without Borders said: "The Tunisian authorities cannot keep reiterating their commitment to press freedom at every major national event if a journalist is forced to go into hiding. The scant media coverage of such an important development as the unrest in Gafsa shows how little leeway the Tunisia media enjoy when covering national political news."

The press freedom organisation added: "Boukadous was in the right place at the right time to cover this unrest. As a result of being hounded by the authorities, he had to abandon his work in order to avoid certain arrest. We call for the charges to be dropped so that he can be reunited with his family and go back to work as a reporter."

Boukadous, 38, became an Al-Hiwar Attounsi correspondent in 2006. He was the first television reporter to cover the demonstrations in Gafsa, a phosphate mining region with higher than average unemployment. He filmed the marches, interviewed the population and covered the dozens of arbitrary arrests of participants, many of who are still in pre-trial detention.

The footage shot by Boukadous was used by many leading pan-Arab news media and was posted on video-sharing websites such as YouTube and Dailymotion, both of which are censored in Tunisia. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

There have been major protests and demonstrations by workers in the Gafsa region since 5 January. The authorities have arrested dozens of demonstrators and labour leaders on the streets and in their homes. The police still control access to the region and restrict visits by the media.

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