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Journalist Taoufik Ben Brik sentenced to six months in prison with no parole

(OLPEC/IFEX) - Writer and journalist Taoufik Ben Brik was sentenced by a Tunis high court on 26 November 2009 to six months in prison with no parole on charges of "assault," "willful destruction of property" and "breach of public decency" following a highly politicised sham trial, according to OLPEC.

Contrary to regular practice and in violation of penal code procedure, Ben Brik did not appear in court; his sentence was handed down in absentia. His wife, Azza, sister Saida and brothers Jalal and Fethi were not allowed to see him when they arrived for their weekly visit; prison authorities informed them that Ben Brik "did not want to see them."

Three of his lawyers who attempted to visit him the day of his sentencing were denied access to their client and Mornaguia prison administration claimed he was no longer there, while declining to disclose where he had been transferred. Another of his lawyers, Mohammed Abbou, was arbitrarily detained by police along the road to the prison, in a clear attempt to prevent him from seeing his client.

In fact, no one has been able to see the journalist since the verdict was announced and no one knows where he is being held, which is cause for serious concern, as he suffers from Cushing's Syndrome, a chronic ailment that strips him of all immunity and requires that he be under medical supervision.

Ben Brik's much-publicised trial opened on 19 November in an atmosphere of an undeclared state of emergency. "The courthouse was surrounded by a formidable security barrier blocking all entrances and the hysterical reaction of the political police betrayed the obvious political character of a trial authorities nonetheless insist on declaring a matter of 'common law'," said OLPEC.

In addition to Ben Brik's own defence team, foreign lawyers were prohibited access to the journalist; in two separate instances, lawyers from Algeria and Morocco were turned away at Tunis' Carthage Airport. Journalists and other observers, including a crew from France 3 television, were also denied access to the court.

Outside the courthouse, a heavy police presence was felt in a number of areas. OLPEC Secretary General Sihem Bensedrine and Radio Kalima director Omar Mestiri were confined to their home by a cordon of about 20 police officers, who also prevented visitors from entering. Family and friends attempting to visit Ben Brik's wife on the eve of the trial were also turned away by police stationed in front of the journalist's home.

OLPEC strongly condemns this sentence and demands Ben Brik's immediate and unconditional release and an end to his judicial harassment. The organisation holds President Ben Ali personally responsible for any physical or mental abuse the journalist may suffer as well as for actions placing his life in danger while in state custody.

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