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IFJ condemns assault on union activist

(IFJ/IFEX) - 16 October 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned attacks and harassment of Tunisian journalists after a series of incidents which suggest deliberate targeting of activists for independent journalism.

In particular, the IFJ condemned the beating up of Zied El Heni, journalist for the daily Assahafa, that took place yesterday in Tunis. His blog, Tunisian journalist, was also shut down for the 22nd time by the authorities.

El Heni is a board member of the Tunisian Journalists Syndicate (SNJT) which has been the subject of an internal crisis over the summer that saw the organization of a rival leadership at a hotly disputed extraordinary congress.

In a related incident, Hanane Belaifa, journalist at Radio-Jeunes was barred from access to the station. Belaifa is a prominent syndicate activist who had helped organize demonstrations for the regularization of employment contracts at the state radio and outspoken supporter of the ousted SNJT board. The SNJT says she is being targeted for her union work.

"The attack on El Heni is an intolerable attack on a prominent journalist and leading advocate for independent journalism," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "The simultaneous closure of his blog is clear evidence of political pressure and suggests that this unknown assailant was not acting alone."

El Heni recently took part in an IFJ regional meeting in Amman where the SNJT protested at the campaign to change the leadership following the publication of a press freedom report critical of the government and by their refusal to endorse sitting President Ben Ali in national elections due to take place on 25 October.

On his return from Amman, El Heni was strip searched at Tunis airport and all his documents, including IFJ publications, were seized.

Other independent journalists have come under pressure for their union activism, including some working for the newspapers Assabah, and Al Khabir, according to the SNJT.

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