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Human rights defender harassed, threatened with death by police

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the way the police in Gafsa (400 km southwest of Tunis) have been harassing political activist Ammar Amroussia in recent days. Amroussia writes for "El Badil" (Alternative), a banned newspaper that supports the Communist Party of Tunisian Workers, which is also banned.

"The authorities want to silence all the dissidents who are disseminating information about the wave of popular unrest in Gafsa," Reporters Without Borders said. "Amroussia is a source of irritation for the authorities and they want to make him shut up. How far will they go with their mental and physical harassment?"

Amroussia told Reporters Without Borders he was alarmed by the harassment, but he added: "I fear silence even more."

The police harassment of Amroussia follows the publication of articles on the "El Badil" website about the tension in the Gafsa mining region. Amroussia helped to publicise the wave of protest in the region in January 2008 and the ensuing crackdown the following June.

Like many other journalists and human rights activists in Gafsa, Amroussia was barred from the courthouse on 14 May 2009 for the start of the trial of seven youths who were arrested for staging a sit-in Gafsa. A second hearing was held on 22 May.

Amroussia was physically attacked by six police officers including Gafsa police chief Sami Yahyaoui while meeting with the wife of one of the Gafsa protest leaders in a public place on 15 May.

A group of police officers, including Gafsa deputy police chief Mohammed Yousfi, publicly insulted him on 16 May and warned him that he could be killed if he did not stop covering developments in the mining region.

Unrest erupted in Gafsa in January 2008 after the Gafsa Phosphate Company, the region's main employer, announced the results of a recruitment competition in which favouritism and loyalty to the ruling party were clearly much more important factors than competence. It sparked the biggest wave of protests in Tunisia since Ben Ali became president in 1987.

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