Tunisia, where independent journalism is a criminal act

Posted: July 15, 2010 in Press Releases
Tags: ,
07 Jul 2010

Fahem Boukadous

 

As statements of contempt for free expression, they don’t come much plainer. This week Tunisia told the world that it defines independent journalism as “spreading news likely to harm public order,” and independent media as “criminal organisations”

On 6 July a Tunisian appeals court confirmed the four-year prison sentence handed down to journalist Fahem Boukadous, simply for doing his job and reporting trade union protests in the provincial city of Gafsa in 2008.

For many members of the Tunisian Monitoring Group (TMG) of IFEX free expression network, the verdict is part of a process of institutionalising state censorship in Tunisia with the help of a sympathetic judiciary. It has strongly condemned the charges.

The TMG is urging the Tunisian authorities to end ongoing harassment of critical journalists and to respect free expression in line with its domestic laws and its ratified commitments to international covenant on civil and political rights.

It also lays down a serious challenge to the European Union to condemn the harassment. Brussels is already hesitating in offering Tunis the special trade relationship already offered to its neighbour Morocco.

The charges brought against Boukadous, 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.

To do it, those same authorities are dragging an innocent sick man through hospitals, courts and jails out of sheer maliciousness. Having exposed the state’s failures in Gafsa in 2008 the state is now making Boukadous suffer for it.

Boukaddous was unable to attend the hearing as he was in a hospital in Sousse where he is being treated for respiratory problems. “There are plainclothes police agents in the hospital pressuring medical staff to release me so that they can take me to prison. Hospital staff are refusing to yield to their pressure”, Boukaddous told the TMG.

Radhia Nasraoui, one of his lawyers, denounced the court ruling as “harsh and unfair” and warned 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.

Boukadous, 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 he emerged to challenge the sentence on the basis that he had been tried in absentia. A court overturned the previous ruling, but said that Boukadous 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.

Index on Censorship currently chairs the TMG, which is a group of 20 organisations who belong to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) network

 

Posted via nawaat’s posterous

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