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ANHRI condemns actions against opposition newspapers

(ANHRI/IFEX) - 27 September 2010 - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) denounces the continued restrictive policy of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's government on press freedom and freedom of expression in Tunisia.

Ahmed Ibrahim, secretary of the Tagdid opposition movement and manager of "al-Tariq al-Gadid" newspaper, will be prosecuted today on charges of publishing false news about corruption in Tunisia. This comes a few days after Tunisian security personnel barred Issue #561 of the Progressive Democratic Party's "al-Mowqef" newspaper because of reporting on the theft of journalism equipment.

In its 23 September issue, "Al-Mowqef" produced a report titled "Tunisians involved in stealing Ahmed Mansour's equipment in Paris" ( ). The report mentioned that some Tunisians stole work equipment belonging to Ahmed Mansour, the producer of the "Shahed Ala al-Asr" programme on Al Jazeera news network, in order to stop the airing of an interview with Ahmed Bannour, a former government official. Tunisian security personnel stopped the printing of the issue of the newspaper and the newspaper's staff were shocked when the printer refused to deliver issue #561. A manager at the newspaper, Ahmed Naguib al-Shabby, started a hunger strike to protest this assault on press freedom.

In a separate incident, because of his reporting on bribery incidents in the municipality of Qosaybet al-Madyouni, south of Tunis, Ahmed Ibrahim, the manager of "al-Tariq al-Gadid" newspaper, is being prosecuted on charges of publishing false news.

The Tunisian security forces have always used unusual means to punish dissidents. They are known for fabricating criminal charges against journalists, bloggers and activists so they can be arrested. ANHRI holds the security forces responsible for barring "al-Mowqef" from publishing its 23 September issue despite the claims of the printing house manager that it was due to technical problems.

ANHRI said, "Ever since Ben Ali came to power, the Tunisian government has been working to ensure that an atmosphere of oppression prevails. Tunisia tops the list of countries hostile to freedom of expression. Barring an issue of 'al-Mowqef' and prosecuting the manager of 'al-Tariq al-Gadid' are new links in a long chain of violations of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Tunisia."

ANHRI warned the Tunisian government against going further in oppressing opposition parties. The barring of an issue of an opposition paper and prosecution of the manager of another are clear displays of the dictatorship of Ben Ali, how restrictive he is of his opponents and the hostility towards democracy. Ben Ali deprives his opponents of their legitimate right to express themselves. This is a real threat to public freedoms in Tunisia and marks a steady retreat in the Tunisian record on human rights, which could negatively affect Tunisia's relationship with the international community.

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    (RSF/IFEX) - On 18 April 2008, Reporters Without Borders called on the Tunisian authorities to put a stop to the harassment of the staff of the weekly "Al-Maoukif", the mouthpiece of the opposition Progressive Democratic Party (PDP). The seizures of its latest issues and libel suits are threatening its survival. The organisation also wrote to French President Nicolas Sarkozy asking him to raise the issue of free expression during his 28-30 April visit to Tunis.

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