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IFJ condemns abduction of broadcaster

(IFJ/IFEX) - 17 November 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned the abduction of Omar Mestiri, director of Radio Kalima, a private radio station based in Tunis. Mestiri was attacked by unidentified assailants in Tunis around midday, Monday, before being bundled into a car and driven to an unknown location.

"We are appalled that a leading voice of independent journalism has been assaulted and abducted," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "The inaction of the authorities over this increasingly violent campaign against independent journalism is intolerable and suggests strongly that the government is implicated in the attacks."

According to the Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens (SNJT), an IFJ affiliate, Mestiri was picked up in central Tunis as he was speaking to a lawyer and has not been seen since.

This is the latest in a series of attacks and acts of repression against journalists in recent weeks. Two weeks ago Slim Boukdhir, a freelance journalist and correspondent of Al Arabya newspaper in Tunisia, was similarly assaulted and abducted by unidentified men on 28 October. Boukdhir was later found dumped near a park stripped of his clothes, having sustained serious injuries. A few days later his house was surrounded by security forces who denied access to all visitors for four days.

Another prominent journalist, Ben Brick, was arrested on 29 October and is awaiting trial in a case his lawyer described as an attempt by the authorities to silence legitimate journalism, after publication in the French press of his articles critical of President Ben Ali's government.

The concern about a government hand in these events comes as the journalists' community itself was split during the summer following the election of a new board of the SNJT amidst accusations of political interference.

Neji Bghouri, President of the SNJT's original board had his mobile phone blocked following a number of interviews he conducted in response to Friday's SNJT press release condemning the list of attacks on media. Zied El Heni, another SNJT board member was assaulted in October and has also had his website repeatedly closed by the authorities.

The IFJ Executive Committee, meeting in London at the weekend, supported calls for a reunifying congress to end the damaging division in Tunisian journalists.

"The onslaught on media reinforces the image of an intolerant and repressive regime in Tunisia," added White. "We call on the Government to protect journalists, to end all forms of media harassment and to keep its distance from the affairs of journalists."

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