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Presidential palace furious as it hunts down opposition

Tunisian President Ben Ali maintains stranglehold on press.
Tunisian President Ben Ali maintains stranglehold on press.

via IPI

Despite consolidating his vice-like grip on power, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali continues to imprison journalists critical of his regime, say members of the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group in a joint action this week. Other dissidents are trapped in their homes, surrounded by police who prevent visitors from entering.

Journalist Taoufik Ben Brik, a well-known critic who writes for newspapers in France, was arrested on 29 October on charges involving the alleged assault of a woman - but IFEX members say the arrest was clearly politically motivated. In reality, IFEX members believe he was arrested in reprisal for publishing articles criticising the recent re-election of President Ben Ali.

Ben Brik was sentenced on 26 November to six months in prison with no parole on charges of "assault," "wilful destruction of property" and "breach of public decency" during a mock trial that was in violation of the penal code, reports the Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création (OLPEC).

He is now being held in a prison 120 km outside of Tunis far from his family. There is great concern about his well-being as he suffers from Cushing's Syndrome - a condition that strips him of all immunity, says OLPEC, adding that he requires medicine regularly.

Zouhayr Makhlouf, a political activist, member of Amnesty International Tunisia 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 issues. On 1 December he was sentenced to three months in prison and a fine of 6,000 dinars (US$4,700), report IFEX members.

Journalists have been beaten, kidnapped or detained. Other dissidents find themselves harassed and surrounded 24 hours a day by plainclothes police, including members of OLPEC and Radio Kalima journalists. In addition, opposition journalists have been prevented from working at their newspapers.

Although President Ben Ali ensured his victory in the last election by shredding the opposition and quashing dissent, articles critical of his regime and a book about his wife's rise to political power by two French journalists are credited with reducing his support from 95 percent in 2004 to just below 90 percent in October 2009.

The book, "La Régente de Carthage," details 52-year-old Leila Trabelsi's corrupt, ruthless and far-reaching influence in Tunisia, according to a review in "Middle East International". Trabelsi attempted to have it banned in France, but French courts rejected her request. Journalists quoted in the book or having any connection with the authors were assaulted or jailed.

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