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Journalist Lotfi Hidouri released without charge

(OLPEC/IFEX) - The following is a 12 December 2008 OLPEC press release:

Journalist arrested, lawyer prevented from leaving the country

On 10 December 2008, Lotfi Hidouri, an OLPEC member and news desk editor for Kalima newspaper, was arrested at Tunis' Carthage airport as he was preparing to leave for Lebanon, where he was to take part in the Third Forum on the Arab Press in Beirut.

After he had cleared security and had his passport stamped, Hidouri was met by two plainclothes officers who told him to follow them. He was taken to the airport police offices where he was presented with a written statement ready for him to sign indicating that he was being arrested for non-payment of a fine. Hidouri was then taken to the Bouchoucha detention centre.

Mohamed Abbou, who was to board the same flight as guest of honour on the forum's panel on free expression in Tunisia was prevented from leaving the country for the fifth time since his release from prison in July 2007. Abbou immediately stepped in to defend Hidouri and determine the reasons for his arrest.

The fine referred to in the police statement was a 100 dinar fine issued more than two years ago and paid within the required period. In fact, Hidouri had travelled without difficulty since the alleged infraction referred to by the border police. According to Abbou, the fact that Hidouri's passport was already stamped was a clear indication that there was no record of the charge in the police's own centralized information system and that they were using the alleged outstanding fine as an excuse to prevent Hidouri from attending the conference.

A further irregularity in the judicial process occurred when Hidouri appeared before the investigating judge on 11 December. When his lawyer produced before the judge documentary evidence that the fine had been paid within the required time, the judge refused to release Hidouri, on the grounds that a committal order had already been issued for him and that he was already in Mornaguia prison, when in fact Hidouri was in detention at the Tunis court of justice.

Hidouri was finally released at about 8:00 p.m., when the authorities realised they had no legal grounds to detain him further.

OLPEC:

- Condemns the arbitrary arrest of Lotfi Hidouri, which it believes was entirely orchestrated by the police to prevent him from attending the Forum on the Arab Press;

- Denounces the illegal debarment of Mohamed Abbou from leaving the country;

- Calls on the Tunisian government to respect its international commitments with respect to freedom of movement of all citizens.

Naziha Rjiba
Vice president,
OLPEC

Updates the Hidouri case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99256

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