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Ruling party henchman files complaint against journalist after assaulting him

(OLPEC/IFEX) - Tunis, 6 July 2010 - Mouldi Zouabi, a senior reporter at Radio Kalima and founding member of the Tunisian Pen Club, has received a summons to appear at the Jendouba District Court on 14 July to face charges of "aggravated violence and public insults" against his aggressor, Khalil Maaroufi, a ruling party henchman. Zouabi had expected to be summoned as a plaintiff in the case involving the physical attack against him by Maaroufi.

The case dates back to 1 April 2010, when the journalist was attacked by Maaroufi, known to be close to the police and manager of a cafe located close to the courthouse in Jendouba.

The assault took place near the Central Police Station of Jendouba District. Maaroufi jumped out of a car with tainted windows (in Tunisia only police officers and government officials are allowed to drive vehicles with tainted windows), asked the journalist if his name was Mouldi Zouabi, and as soon as he answered positively, Maaroufi started beating him up and broke his glasses. Then the henchman threatened and insulted him, calling him a "traitor to the homeland" who "tarnishes the country's image," and warned he would "pay for his betrayal.” While Zouabi was on the ground, Maaroufi took his ID, credit card, driver's licence, IFJ press card, an audio recorder and other personal effects.

Mouldi Zouabi had lodged a complaint with the public prosecutor's department of Jendouba after having been examined by a doctor who issued a medical certificate attesting to his injuries from the assault. Lawyers from the Human Rights League's Jendouba Section had accompanied him to court and remarked on his poor condition.

He has now learned now that his complaint was dismissed because of "insufficient evidence", and that in turn his assailant filed a complaint against him.


BACKGROUND:

Mouldi Zouabi is a famous reporter best known for his reports on social issues in the country's poor north-west region. His writings have exposed the regime's propaganda concerning economic performance and poverty eradication efforts.

He has suffered from constant repression for over one year. His home is under constant surveillance by palinclothes police officers who also harass his family. His Internet connection continues to be arbitrarily cut since February 2010. An Internet cafe near his home in Bousalem has all been closed. This forces him to search for other internet cafes all around Jendouba governorate in order to carry out his professional activities.

He was arrested on 28 January 2010 at the Montplaisir police station in Tunis and detained for over eight hours, while preparing to interview Mohamed Bouebdelli, director of the University of Tunis.

OLPEC:
• notes that this new lawsuit against a journalist occurs against the backdrop of the promulgation of the new "traitors' law", which criminalizes any form of criticism of government policy. Mr Mouldi Zouabi is also accused of being a traitor who "undermines the country's image";
• denounces the judicial harassment against Zouabi and notes that the denial of his judicial rights coincides with a supposed reform of the justice system, funded by the European Union.
• calls for broad international support of the journalist, who is set to appear in court on 14 July. If convicted, Zouabi faces a possible three-year prison sentence.

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