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Government supporters seize control of journalists' union

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders fears for the independence of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) after a group of journalists working for pro-government news media seized control of the union on 15 August 2009.

"This move by President Ben Ali's supporters just two months ahead of Tunisia's presidential and parliamentary elections bodes ill not only for the union's independence but also for Tunisia's already extremely limited degree of press freedom," Reporters Without Borders said.

Four members of the union's nine-member executive bureau resigned in May after a dispute about the drafting of its annual report on the state of press freedom in Tunisia. Under the union's internal regulations, this automatically triggered the dissolution of the bureau, which was elected in January 2008 and was controlled by a majority labelled as "independent-radical."

The bureau announced new elections for 12 September but the government's supporters, who lost the January 2008 elections, used their majority in an expanded version of the bureau to call an extraordinary congress for 15 August.

Neji Bghouri, president of the SNJT and its executive bureau, responded by applying to a Tunis court for an injunction forbidding the extraordinary congress but the court rejected his request and deferred examination of the case until 26 October.

The congress went ahead on 15 August in the Al-Menzeh 6 Cultural Complex in Tunis, naming a new leadership made up entirely of members or supporters of the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), headed by Jamal Karmawi, a journalist who is an adviser to the RCD's general secretary. Several representatives of Arab media organisations attended this election, including International Federation of Journalists vice-president Younès Moujahid.

"This was a government takeover of an organisation that was meant to be independent and autonomous." Bghouri told Reporters Without Borders. "But the union is not the government's only target. Other organisations such as the Tunisian Human Rights League are being subjected to similar pressure."

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