(IFEX-TMG) - The International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 20 IFEX members, is gravely concerned for the well-being of Tunisian journalist Fahem Boukaddous and urges his immediate release. Boukaddous, whose health has sharply deteriorated in prison, is serving a four-year jail term following his conviction in July for "forming a criminal association liable to attack persons."
"We are very concerned about Boukaddous who needs urgent medical treatment unavailable to him in prison," said Aidan White, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) General Secretary. "Boukaddous has already been denied his freedom as punishment for his independent journalism. Without immediate action his long-term health is under threat."
According to family sources, Boukaddous, correspondent for the satellite channel "Al-Hiwar Ettunisi" (Tunisian Dialogue) has difficulties breathing and speaking and his asthma attacks have increased. On 8 October, Boukaddous began a hunger strike to protest his prison conditions. The family also complain of police harassment. Officers monitor their movements and keep an intimidating watch near the family home and business.
Boukaddous was sentenced to four years in January and his conviction upheld by a court of appeal in July. He was prosecuted following his reporting of public demonstrations against unemployment and corruption in the mining region of Gafsa in 2008.
In a show of solidarity, leaders of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) organised a demonstration on 18 September outside Gafsa prison where Boukaddous was detained, but the police stopped the gathering and turned away demonstrators.
"We look to European Union institutions to leverage their pressure to save the journalist's life," added White. "But they need to act fast as his life is in danger."
Other IFEX-TMG members join the IFJ in calling on the European Parliament to help secure the release of Boukaddous. The Parliament held a hearing on the situation of human rights in Tunisia during its January session in Strasbourg.
"The authorities continue to use the courts as a means of repression against journalists, as the case of journalist Mouldi Zouabi demonstrated this week," said IFEX-TMG Chair Rohan Jayasekera, Associate Editor of Index on Censorship.
Zouabi, a journalist with independent Radio Kalima has been administratively and judicially harassed since July, after he was physically attacked in April. Police decided not to charge the attacker. Instead, they are accusing Zouabi of violent behaviour and actual bodily harm. The case was referred to a higher court on 6 October, and he now faces up to two years in jail. The journalist and his lawyers boycotted the most recent audience in protest at what they say are multiple breaches of due process.
"This is more evidence of the way that a politicised judiciary is being used to silence free speech by denying yet another honest Tunisian journalist a fair trial. I'm positive that a truly independent court system would free Zouabi in a heartbeat," added Jayasekera.
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