(IFEX-TMG) - 16 July 2010 - The International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 20 IFEX members, strongly condemns the arrest of journalist Fahem Boukaddous, who is in poor health, and calls on Tunisia's partners to speak out to help save his life.
On 15 July, the day after his release from hospital, Boukaddous - who has been suffering from acute respiratory problems - was arrested and taken to Gafsa prison, hundreds of kilometres southwest of Tunis, without his much-needed medicine. The prison is filthy, very hot in summer and many prisoners smoke, journalists and lawyers told TMG.
He was arrested when he returned to Farhat Hached Hospital in Sousse in the company of his wife, Afef Ben Nasser.
Radhia Nasraoui, one of Boukaddous' lawyers, warned last week against the "dangerous consequences" of denying Boukaddous the "vital medical care he needs." She added that several political prisoners have died from a "lack of medical care" over the past years.
The arrest comes after the 6 July verdict by an appeals court confirming the four-year prison sentence handed down earlier this year to Boukaddous on charges stemming from his coverage of demonstrations in Gafsa in 2008.
The charges brought against Boukaddous, which include "belonging to a criminal association" and "harming public order", appear to be yet another political manoeuvre aiming to silence criticism of Tunisian authorities.
IFEX-TMG members appeal to Tunisia's friends and partners in the EU and around the world to speak out against the arrest and life-threatening imprisonment of Boukaddous, and urge the Tunisian authorities to put an end to the shameful use of the judiciary to stifle free expression and punish critical journalists.
IFEX-TMG members further call upon the Tunisian government to respect its human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which it has ratified.
"The arrest of an ailing journalist is yet another blow to free expression and human rights in Tunisia. The time has come for this country's genuine friends and close partners to help protect Boukaddous' life and end the unrelenting war on basic freedoms," says IFEX-TMG Chair Rohan Jayasekera of Index on Censorship.
Boukaddous, a journalist with Al-Hiwar Al-Tunisi satellite television station, went into hiding in July 2008 after discovering that he was wanted by the Tunisian authorities. He was sentenced to six years in prison in December 2008.
In November 2009, Boukaddous emerged to challenge the sentence on the basis that he had been tried in absentia. A court overturned the previous ruling, but said that Boukaddous would again be tried on the same charges. In January of this year, the journalist was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison, which his lawyers appealed, without avail.
The IFEX-TMG's latest report, based on a fact-finding mission to Tunisia, shed light on the alarming use of the judiciary to undermine basic human rights and the country's declining freedom of expression record.
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
Media Institute of Southern Africa
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee