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Issue of "As-Sada" magazine banned, journalist Abdallah Zouari briefly detained in wave of increased police harassment against the press

(RSF/IFEX) - On 17 March 2009, Reporters Without Borders wrote to interior and local development minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem, voicing deep concern about a recent increase in police harassment aimed at silencing all those who dare to criticise the government. The letter urged authorities to stop resorting to such intimidating and repressive practices.

The press freedom organisation condemned the ban on local distribution of the penultimate issue of "As-Sada", a weekly magazine published in the United Arab Emirates which was due - to appear on Tunisian newsstands on 6 March. It included an article about Tunisia's ban on polygamy in which the author claimed that, because they could not take four wives, rich Tunisians had many extramarital affairs.

Reporters Without Borders said in the letter that it was concerned to learn that National Security agents had arrested journalist Abdallah Zouari on 13 March in a café in the town of Khariba (in Médenine province, 450 km south of Tunis) and interrogated him for several hours near Zarzis about the fact that he had signed a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, urging him to release political prisoners held in Ramallah.

Zouari, a former editor of the banned weekly "Al Fajr", was later released but he has been kept under surveillance.

In a separate incident, National Security agents spied on human rights lawyer and writer Mohamed Abou from 12 to 14 March, both at his home and when he went out. This attempt to intimidate him followed an interview he gave to the Qatar-based satellite TV station Al Jazeera on 4 March, in which he talked about the way the government continues to prevent him from travelling abroad.

Abou was prevented from flying to London on 3 March to attend a conference organised by Amnesty International on "Terrorism, Security and Human Rights in Tunisia". On 14 March, National Security agents prevented him from leaving Tunis to participate in a round-table discussion on press freedom and human rights at Achabba, 135 km outside the capital.

In yet another incident, Al Jazeera correspondent Lotfi Haji was also prevented by the security forces from travelling to Tunis from his home in Bizerte on 14 March. Like Abou, he was to participate in the Achabba conference on press freedom and human rights.

For further information on the Abou (Abbou) case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/101256

For further information on the previous harassment of journalist Haji (Hajji), see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99576

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