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Journalists and activists targeted prior to elections

(ANHRI/IFEX) - On 22 October 2009, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) expressed its growing concern over the organized campaign against journalists and activists in Tunisia. This campaign expresses the desire of the government to silence writers ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections on 25 October. What is happening in Tunisia now is totally contrary to all government declarations on the necessity of respecting freedom of opinion and expression, ANHRI said.

On 20 October, the Tunisian authorities arrested the well-known journalist and human rights activist Zouhayr Makhlouf, who is also a correspondent for the "Assabilonline" newspaper, after he reported on environmental problems in the industrial district of the city of Nabeul. He was charged with "insulting others via a public telecommunications network".

The timing of the arrest, which comes during the election campaign, is a strong indicator of the regime's desire to stop the Tunisian journalist, who has repeatedly exposed violations of human rights. Makhlouf has already been assaulted and exposed to violent attacks and he received death threats on several occasions. His car was also struck, resulting in a crash. One of the previous assaults left him with a broken arm.

In addition, Radhia Nasraoui, a lawyer and president of the Tunisian Association for Combating Torture in Tunisia, has suffered the imposition of a siege on her home. Clients of her law practice have also been terrorized and she had been prevented from traveling to France to participate in a European Parliament seminar, on the pretext of a complaint against her and her husband, Hamma Hammami, who has been the secretary general of the Tunisian Communist Workers Party since 2008. Nasraoui did not manage to obtain information on the identity of the complainant.

Journalist Ziad El Hani has also been exposed to attacks and was subjected to a smear campaign when other journalists launched a petition demanding the suspension of his membership in the Press Syndicate and that he be prosecuted after he wrote an article about the sexual harassment of a female journalist by a newspaper's managing editor.

ANRHI strongly condemns these violations of the rights of journalists and activists and considers the actions of the Tunisian government to be a declaration of war against its opponents. These are the same practices that harmed the reputation of Tunisia with respect to freedoms within Arab and international circles.
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