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IFEX-TMG members urgently call on authorities to immediately cease blockade of Radio Kalima, investigate abduction of journalist Dhafer Otay

(IFEX-TMG) - The following is an IFEX-TMG press release:

Members of the IFEX-Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 18 member organisations of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) network, firmly condemn the siege carried out by police on Tunis-based media outlet Kalima and call on the Tunisian authorities to immediately launch an investigation into the abduction of one of its journalists and harassment of the station's staff and contributors.

IFEX-TMG members are concerned by the abduction of Radio Kalima journalist Dhafer Otay that took place on 27 January 2009 at 2.00 p.m. (local time) from outside the station offices after being surrounded by a group of plainclothes police. While relieved to hear of his release six hours later, IFEX-TMG is extremely concerned by this unexplained arrest and threats made against him and colleagues.

During the hours of his disappearance, guests of his radio show and other journalists and activists were prevented from entering Kalima's office building. As a result, Kalima staff members were unable to leave the station's premises, afraid that if they did they would be unable to return and continue their programming.

Lawyer Mohamed Abbou and journalist Slim Boukhdhir, who came to show their support for their Radio Kalima colleagues on 27 January, were held back by police. The secretary of CNLT (Conseil National Pour Les Libertés en Tunisie), a human rights organisation, who is also an editor of Kalima was also prevented from entering her office, which is located in the same building.TMG members are alarmed by the severe beating by police of human rights activist Makhlouf Zouhayr, who had also come to express solidarity.

Upon his release at 8:00 p.m. (local time), officers threatened to arrest Otay again if he returned to the radio station. He was forced to seek refuge at a friend's residence because his apartment is located in the same building as Kalima.

The blockade of the radio station has continued for two days. Police presence was doubled at the office on 28 January. More than 60 officers have been patrolling the surrounding streets, preventing anyone from entering. Only Omar Mestiri, chief editor of Kalima, has been let inside the premises. At the time of writing, the rest of staff remained under siege in the radio station's offices.

The station staff have received frequent threats by police for their reporting over recent days and Kalima's Internet connection has been down intermittently. These events appear to be an effort to silence Radio Kalima since they have occurred immediately following the 27 January satellite launch of the station. The station's Internet broadcasts have been made inaccessible since an attack by hackers last fall.

"These events come as the latest affront in a long history of violations of the right to a free press in Tunisia," says IFEX-TMG Chair Rohan Jayasekera, of Index on Censorship. "Journalists and human rights activists are frequently victims of harassment, arbitrary violence and censorship."

Members of TMG call on the Tunisian authorities to:

- guarantee under all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all staff and contributors of Kalima
- conduct an exhaustive impartial and independent investigation of the facts described herein, to identify those responsible and bring them before a competent and independent and impartial civil court to apply penal sanctions according to the law
- immediately cease harassment of all staff and contributors to Kalima as well as all Tunisian human rights defenders
- conform to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, particularly article 12.2., which states: "The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration"
- and conform to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the regional and international human rights instruments that Tunisia has ratified.

Members of IFEX-TMG:

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egypt
ARTICLE 19, United Kingdom
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), United States
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Index on Censorship, United Kingdom
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Belgium
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), Netherlands
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
International Publishers' Association (IPA), Switzerland
Journaliste en danger (JED), Democratic Republic of Congo
Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Norwegian PEN, Norway
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), Canada
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), United States
Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC), United Kingdom

IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group

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