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Make Tunisia accountable for rights violations, TMG urges French foreign minister

(IFEX-TMG) - The Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 20 organisations that belong to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) network, wrote to French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner on 16 November 2009 to express their concerns over mounting free expression violations in Tunisia following recent presidential elections:

Mr. Bernard Kouchner
Ministre des Affaires étrangères et européennes
37, Quai d'Orsay
75351 Paris
16 November 2009

Honourable Minister,

We are writing to you on behalf of the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), composed of 20 members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), to share with you our extreme concern over the serious violations of the right to freedom of expression and the Tunisian authorities' tendency to resort to censorship, intimidation and violence.

We have recently condemned an attack against a Tunisian journalist, reportedly carried out by the Police, as well as the arrest of another journalist, and we have called on the Tunisian authorities to relinquish their intimidation campaign against independent media.

Journalist Slim Boukhdhir was assaulted during the night of 28 October by four men, allegedly police in civilian clothes, hours after giving an interview to the BBC about the recent Presidential elections. He was kidnapped, blindfolded, beaten and stripped of his clothing before being dumped in a public park.

In a separate incident, journalist Taoufik Ben Brik was arrested on 29 October following publication of critical articles on the recent re-election of President Ben Ali. The articles had prompted angry reactions in State-run newspapers. The charges involve the alleged assault of a woman but appear to be politically motivated. We wish to express our extreme concern for the health of Ben Brik.

We are also deeply concerned following the arrest of blogger Fatima Al Riahi (known as Arabbica). Although she was released after several days, she continues, like scores of other independent-minded bloggers, to be hounded by police.

We have called on the Tunisian government to thoroughly investigate the attack on Slim Boukhdhir and bring its perpetrators to justice, to drop the charges against Taoufik Ben Brik, and to stop harassing independent journalists and the independent and opposition press in Tunisia.

As you know, media in Tunisia are largely under State control or influence. This control extends even to the Board of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), whose independence has been usurped and whose members are harassed.

Journalists who criticise the government or report on corruption face harassment, intimidation and imprisonment. President Ben Ali, who has held office since 1987 and was re-elected on 25 October with nearly 90 percent of the vote, had warned critics that the law would be "brought to bear on anyone casting accusations or doubts on the integrity of the electoral process without solid evidence."

Following the elections, President Ben Ali, later mimicked by the local media, accused a "tiny minority" of Tunisians of treason and of providing assistance to foreign journalists to cast doubt on the result of the elections, which saw the ruling party maintain its large majority.

On 6 November, your Ministry expressed concern with regards to the situation with which local independent journalists and human rights defenders are confronted in Tunisia. Your Excellency, we deem it imperative for the French government not to under-estimate the seriousness of human rights violations in Tunisia, and to adopt and promote a policy in line with the values of the French Republic, inviting the Tunisian authorities to respect their international commitments in the field of human rights, in particular with regards to freedom of expression.

We hereby take this opportunity to request a meeting with you at a date of your convenience.

With the utmost respect, Honourable Minister, we remain yours sincerely,

Timothy Balding
Joint CEO
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Rohan Jayasekera
Chair of the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group

Members of the IFEX-TMG:

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egypt
ARTICLE 19, United Kingdom
Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Egypt
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), United States
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Index on Censorship, United Kingdom
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Belgium
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), Netherlands
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
International Publishers' Association (IPA), Switzerland
Journaliste en danger (JED), Democratic Republic of Congo
Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Norwegian PEN, Norway
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), Canada
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), United States
Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC), United Kingdom

The Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) is a coalition of 20 organisations that belong to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) network. The TMG monitors free expression violations in Tunisia to focus attention on the country's need to improve its human rights record.

World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
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