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TMG calls on European Parliament to help end Tunisian government's unrelenting war on free expression

(IFEX-TMG) - 13 January 2010 - The Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition now counting 20 member organisations of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), welcomes the European Parliament's public debate on the situation in Tunisia on 20 January. TMG members hope the debate will send a strong message to the Tunisian government to end its unrelenting war on freedom of expression.

Five TMG fact-finding missions since January 2005 to monitor the plight of freedom of expression in Tunisia before and after the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and continuous research have shown how attacks on this basic right have not stopped intensifying. The administration and the judiciary have been increasingly used to harass dissidents and critical journalists.

Prominent scholars and democracy advocates, including Mohamed Talbi, former dean of the Faculty of Arts of Tunis and president of the banned Observatory for the Freedom of the Press, Publishing and Creation (OLPEC) told the TMG that the ruthless policy of repression of independent-minded journalists, judges, lawyers, writers, students and trade-unionists is "unprecedented in the country's recent history."

This policy of systematic intimidation has forced thousands of Tunisians, including journalists, into exile over the past years. More dangerously, it has led hundreds of young people to be influenced by groups advocating the use of violence to achieve political goals. The government spares neither the victims' relatives, nor foreign journalists and human rights researchers.

The decision to imprison well-known critical journalist Taoufik Ben Brik, following a mock trial similar to hundreds of other shameful and politically motivated trials mirrors a vengeful trend rather than a quest for justice. Journalist Fahem Boukaddous was sentenced today to four years in prison for covering demonstrations in Gafsa against unemployment and corruption.

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's critics are dealt with as if they were criminals. Scores of Tunisian political prisoners have died under torture or due to lack of medical care over the past two decades, according to local and international human rights groups. Ben Brik faces life-threatening prison conditions, and family members launched a hunger strike in protest.

"These heavy losses of lives could have been avoided and journalists Taoufik Ben Brik and Zouhaier Makhlouf and thousands of other Tunisians would not have been jailed for exercising the right to freedom of expression or association, had the Tunisian state been firmly reminded by its friends and partners in Europe and elsewhere of the urgent need to genuinely abide by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," said TMG Chair Rohan Jayasekera of Index on Censorship.

Members of the IFEX-TMG:

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