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Members of journalists' union fight for independence

The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) continues to fight for its independence, having been illegally taken over by government supporters last month, say members of the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), the Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création (OLPEC) and other IFEX members.

On 8 September, a Tunisian court recognised the new members of the board, after pro-government journalists were illegally elected on 15 August and filed a lawsuit seeking to take over the union. Following the court decision on 8 September, police physically evicted members of the board (who had been democratically elected last year) from the union offices, say the TMG, OLPEC, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Police evicted Nejiba Hamrouni, three syndicate staffers, and "Al-Jazeera" correspondent and human rights activist Lotfi Hajji, according to CPJ. SNJT told IFJ, of which it is a member, that ousted union president Neji Beghouri was barred from entering the offices, assaulted and taken away by police.

Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, said, "This is heavy-handed and violent interference in journalism. It is unacceptable and demonstrates the intolerance of a regime which puts power politics before democracy."

The democratically elected Board members of SNJT held a press conference at the offices of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD) on 12 September, says the TMG, where representatives of ATFD and other NGOs strongly condemned the blatant violations of the law and the right to trade unionism and the political police interference in the internal affairs of SNJT. A representative of IFJ was also present to support the right of Tunisian journalists to belong to an independent syndicate.

According to the TMG and OLPEC, the Tunisian judiciary's lack of independence has been often used to target critical journalists and human rights and political activists. OLPEC says it "is gravely concerned by the increasing intolerance of public authorities to any independent association, and particularly by the recently orchestrated coup against the legitimate office of the SNJT."

The TMG, a coalition of 20 IFEX members, has expressed its support for the democratically elected Board of the Tunisian journalists syndicate, and "vehemently denounces the use of the police and judiciary to usurp the union."

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