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TMG calls on African Commission to examine country's poor free expression record

Tunisian authorities are relentlessly punishing critical journalists and rights activists, says the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), composed of 20 IFEX members, after a recent mission. This week the TMG is urging members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) meeting in Gambia to examine the repression of freedom of expression and press freedom in Tunisia. For example, a journalist is facing four years in prison for reporting on demonstrations against unemployment and corruption. The TMG has also welcomed the recent release of an imprisoned critical journalist, but argues that he should have never been jailed.

Over the years, the TMG has documented a range of free expression violations, including during a fact-finding mission from 25 April until 6 May, lead by Amadou Kanoute of ARTICLE 19. At the NGO Forum prior to the 47th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR this week, a resolution on Tunisia was adopted urging the ACHPR to conduct its own mission to Tunisia. Kanoute says, "While the country may boast socio-economic achievements, these need to be matched with similar strides in effectively upholding commitments to freedom of expression and human rights that are covered under conventions to which Tunisia is a signatory."

The TMG is drawing attention to: the plight of journalists who have applied for independent newspaper licenses or radio frequencies and have received no replies; judges who have been removed from their positions and been sent hundreds of kilometres away from their families for requesting a margin of freedom to act in good conscience; bloggers whose sites are hacked or blocked, while they are arrested and harassed; the takeover of the legitimate National Journalists Syndicate of Tunisia (SNJT) by government supporters; and the relentless surveillance of critics of the government.

Fahem Boukadous, a journalist for Al-Hiwar Al-Tunisi satellite television station, covered protests in Gafsa, a mining region in the country, in 2008. After learning the authorities were after him because of his reporting, he went into hiding, and was sentenced to six years in prison in absentia. He emerged in 2009 to challenge the courts and was sentenced to four years in prison. His next appeal is on 18 May.

Taoufik Ben Brik, a journalist and writer known for his biting criticism of the Tunisian government, was released on 28 April, after completing a six-month prison sentence on charges widely seen as fabricated. As a result of his work, he has been detained in the past, barred from travelling outside the country, and his family members have been harassed.

In a recent incident, journalist Zuhair Makhlouf was viciously beaten by police in front of his wife and children, and detained for seven hours on 24 April, report the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Makhlouf was recently detained for close to four months after publishing an article about pollution in the industrial areas in Nabeul, south of Tunis.

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    Eight plainclothes police officers arrived at the home of Zuhair Makhlouf and informed him that he was under arrest.

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