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TMG urges Tunisian government to free journalists and cease harassment

(IFEX-TMG) - Tunisia must immediately stop jailing journalists, say members of the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) reacting angrily to the sentencing to prison of journalists Taoufik Ben Brik and Zouhayr Makhlouf.

On 26 November, Ben Brik was sentenced to six months in prison with no chance to appeal. Regrettably, he has been transferred to a prison in Siliana - nearly 120km away from his family in Tunis. Then on 1 December, Makhlouf was sentenced to three months in prison and a fine of 6,000 dinars (US$4,700.)

Ben Brik, a well-known critic who writes for newspapers in France, requires medical attention for a chronic ailment and TMG members fear for his well-being in prison. He was arrested on 29 October following publication of critical articles on the recent re-election of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 25 October for a fifth term. The charges involve the alleged assault of a woman but were clearly politically motivated.

Makhlouf, a political activist and contributor to Assabil Online, a Tunisian news site, was arrested on 20 October after posting a video report on the Internet about environmental, economic and social problems in an industrial area of Nabeul.

"This is clearly the result of articles written by journalists who were critical of the regime. Even after President Ben Ali has consolidated his grip on power, we are terribly disappointed that he feels the need to punish those who don't agree with him," said TMG Chair Rohan Jayasekera of Index on Censorship. "It's ridiculous to think that Taoufik Ben Brik would pause on his way to school with his daughter to assault a woman in the street!"

In addition to the sentencing, TMG members are extremely concerned about serious violations of the rights to freedom of expression, and the Tunisian authorities' tendency to resort to censorship, intimidation and violence.

Other journalists and activists have suffered because of the clampdown surrounding the elections – some having been beaten, kidnapped or detained, others finding themselves surrounded 24 hours a day by plainclothes police.

We call on the Tunisian government to release Taoufik Ben Brik and Zouhayr Makhlouf, and to stop attacking and harassing independent journalists and activists in Tunisia. Furthermore, punitive actions against their families must cease, including the police harassment and surveillance of Ben Brik's family.

Clearly these sentences and assaults are reprisals after direct threats voiced by President Ben Ali, who 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."

The TMG is composed of 20 members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX). After monitoring free expression violations in Tunisia for over five years, TMG members will continue to press the Tunisian government to respect its international human rights commitments.

IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
PEN International
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee
What other IFEX members are saying
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