(OLPEC/IFEX) - The Observatory of Press, Publishing, and Creative Freedom (OLPEC) is very concerned about the continued harassment of independent journalists. The harassment is part of the ongoing offensive against independent media outlets and the opposition by Tunisian authorities since the beginning of the year.
On 13 July 2009, Radio Kalima reporter Mouldi Zwabi was harassed by plain-clothes security agents while covering a trade union event in the city of Béjà in the northwest of the country. Seven plain-clothes security agents closely watched Zwabi while he conducted interviews with union members and ostentatiously listened in on the interviews with the goal of dissuading the union members from expressing themselves. In the morning, they detained him for a long time and with no apparent reason at the entrance to the city. The agents then followed him to each place he went, including the inside of a café.
His friends and any acquaintances who speak to him are also harassed and subject to questioning regarding their interaction with Zwabi.
This is not the first time that security agents have put pressure on Zwabi. He has been subject to surveillance on several occasions, including at the doctor's office where his wife was receiving treatment as well as during visits to the homes of his friends and family.
As a result of his reporting for Radio Kalima, Zwabi has been continually harassed since February 2009. His home is under constant surveillance by plain-clothes officers who also harass his family.
On 18 February, Zwabi faced eviction from an office he was renting in Bousalem, which his wife used as a copy shop, after the owner was pressured by the police to evict him. The eviction notice was granted and executed in his absence on 18 March. The police searched his personal documents and sealed the office without allowing him to collect his belongings. To make sure that he was absent from the premises during the eviction, the Jendouba public prosecutor summoned Zwabi for a complaint related to police violence that Zwabi submitted two years ago and that still had not been addressed in court.
On 5 May, when Zwabi tried to submit a complaint to the Béjà prosecutor's office, police agents prevented him from entering the courthouse.
Following the 30 January raid that was preceded by a siege of several days on Radio Kalima offices, journalists who continued to work for the radio station have constantly been harassed (interrogations and body searches, surveillance, confiscation of equipment, etc). Radio Kalima offices remain sealed and a permanent police force is stationed outside the building to forbid access to anyone, including members of the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT) and OLPEC, whose offices are located on a lower floor in the same building.
The investigating judge in charge of the case against one of the editors-in-chief of Radio Kalima, Sihem Bensedrine, who is charged with "transmission of information without legal authorisation", recently informed Radio Kalima lawyers that he is pursuing his investigation and awaiting expert conclusions regarding the assessment of the equipment seized during the raid.
Furthermore, Tunisian authorities continue to refuse to renew Bensedrine's passport, even though it has been a year since she submitted her request on 10 July 2008. The authorities have also refused to renew her son's passport. A student in France, Bensedrine's son submitted his request on 15 July 2008 following the theft of his passport in Paris. He is unable to travel as he does not have a valid identity document.
- denounces the harassment of independent journalists, notably Mouldi Zwabi, and calls for the end of all harassment against him and his family so that he may work without fear of police persecution
- calls for the lifting of the seal on Radio Kalima offices
- demands the end of the continued legal proceedings against Sihem Bensedrine and that both she and her son be given valid passports
President of the Observatory