CJFE protests harassment of Tunisian journalists

Friday, May 13, 2005

CJFE joins with other members of the Tunisia monitoring group (TMG) in calling on the Tunisian government to stop harassing Lotfi Hajji, President of the small independent Tunisian Journalists' Syndicate (SJT).

In the few days before and after this month's World Press Freedom Day, Hajji was summonsed by police, detained, had his books confiscated at Tunis airport, and was threatened with prosecution after the authorities found out that he planned to publish the syndicate's own report on Tunisian media repression.

TMG is a group of national, regional and international NGOs committed to the protection and promotion of free expression, founded to call attention to the choice of Tunisia, a noted repressor of free expression, as the host of the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

A recent report by the group titled "Tunisia: Freedom of Expression under Siege" expresses grave concern about human rights violations in the country, including the use of torture by security services, imprisonment of individuals who express their opinions, restrictions on freedom of association, police surveillance of e-mails and the blocking of news and information websites.

"It's ironic that the Tunisian authorities are choosing to mark World Press Freedom Day in this way," said Alexis Krikorian of the Geneva based International Publishers Association (IPA), a member of the TMG. "But it's even more ironic that while the authorities are harassing Lotfi, the authorities are telling us that there is no harassment of the media in Tunisia."

During Hajji's series of interrogations at the Bizerte police station, police told him that his syndicate did not have the legal status to publish a report on media rights in Tunis. The SJT report, which was released as planned, concluded that the Tunisian media was more muzzled today than at anytime since President Zine Abidene Ben Ali seized power in 1987. Hajji was also asked to hand the police the list of its 160 members, but refused.

Members of the TMG are concerned that Hajji may eventually be made to face charges and tried before a judge sympathetic to the regime. Tunis lawyers Mohammed Abbou and Faouzi Mourad were recently jailed by courts accused of doing the bidding of the regime, following their public criticism of the government.

CJFE joins with TMG in urging the international community, particularly its representatives in Tunis, to do all it can to press for fair treatment of Hajji and an end to the harassment he faces.

IFEX-TMG Members:

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Nepal
Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR)
Index on Censorship, UK
International Publishers' Association (IPA), Switzerland
Journaliste en danger (JED), Democratic Republic of Congo
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Norwegian PEN
Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC), UK
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), USA
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)

For further details, contact CJFE Executive Director Rod Macdonell at 416 515-9622 x.227