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Ailing journalist faces three years in prison

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns the prosecutor-general's 30 October 2009 decision to place Tunisian journalist Taoufik Ben Brik in custody on charges of violating public decency, defamation, assault and damaging another person's property.

"These are trumped-up charges designed to ensure that Ben Brik languishes in prison," Reporters Without Borders said. "This dissident journalist needs to take medicine regularly for a serious condition but the authorities have opted to cause as much harm as possible. We call for his release on humanitarian grounds pending his trial."

Ben Brik suffers from Cushing's Syndrome, a chronic ailment that strips him of all immunity. As a result of this serious condition, his health will deteriorate quickly if he is unable to take medicine at regular set times. As he has no immunity, it is also vital that he be placed in a clean and warm environment.

Communication Minister Oussama Romdhani has not released any statement on the case, but Reporters Without Borders asked prison authorities to ensure that, pending his release, Ben Brik is able to take his medicine at the times set by his doctors and that his conditions of detention are appropriate to his very delicate state of health.

The press freedom organisation has also written to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and to the French and US ambassadors to Tunisia about the case.

Ben Brik was arrested on the morning of 29 October after reporting to a police station in response to a summons in connection with an alleged attack on a woman in the street the week before. Transferred to Mornaguia prison, 20 km north of Tunis, he faces a possible three-year jail sentence. His trial is scheduled to begin on 19 November.

Other journalists have been targeted in the past few days. The Reporters Without Borders Tunisia correspondent, Slim Boukhdhir, was assaulted by five men on a Tunis street on 28 October. The same day, there were three attempts to force the door of Mouldi Zouabi, a correspondent for the London-based pan-Arab newspaper "Al-Quds Al-Arabi" and for the website of the Dubai-based satellite TV station Al-Arabiya.

Opposition politician and activist Zouhair Makhlouf has meanwhile been detained in Mornaguia prison since 21 October. He is due to appear before a court in Grombalia on 3 November.

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