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Ailing journalist should be allowed specialist medical care in prison, says TMG

(IFEX-TMG) - 26 February 2010 - The Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), 20 members of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) - the global network of free expression campaigners, has received reliable reports that Ben Brik's health is seriously declining in detention.

On 1 February, a court refused Ben Brik's appeal against a six month sentence for assault and "violating public morality", charges that his supporters from the TMG and other groups maintain were politically motivated to silence him.

Ben Brik suffers from diabetes, along with a hormonal disorder that requires regular medication and care. His lawyers and family have repeatedly been prevented from visiting him.

The TMG urges the European Union and other nations to look beyond the political dimensions of the case and help ensure that the jailed journalist is freed to receive appropriate care for his condition.

"We strongly urge the Tunisian authorities to immediately free Ben Brik on humanitarian grounds so he can get the specialist medical care that he clearly needs and cannot get in jail in Siliana, one of Tunisia's toughest prisons," said TMG chair Rohan Jayasekera of Index on Censorship.

Well-known human rights lawyer Mohamed Abbou, a former political prisoner himself, said, "He is paying the price for choosing to do his duty in criticising a very backward and tyrannical regime at a time where many like him chose to remain silent. Leaving him alone to face an adversary drawing on full powers of the state is to be complicit in the crime perpetrated against him."

TMG members received fresh reports on Wednesday 24 February that Ben Brik's health continues to decline. "We do not think the reports are exaggerated," said Jayasekera. "There are genuine fears for his life."

The free expression campaigners are writing to the Tunisian Ministry of Justice and to European and North American diplomats to reiterate their concerns for Ben Brik's well being.

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
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