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TUNISIA: Boukaddous seriously ill; Tunisian PEN member facing prison sentence

Friday 15 October 2010 - 1:00am

Update #1 to RAN 42/10 15 October 2010

International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) is seriously concerned about the health of Fahem Boukaddous, correspondent for Al-Badeel news website and TV journalist, who is serving a four-year prison sentence for his reports on social protests. Since his imprisonment in July, Boukaddous has been suffering from increasingly frequent and debilitating asthma attacks and remains in urgent need of medical treatment not available to him in prison. He has been on hunger strike since 8 October. Meanwhile, journalist and internet writer Mouldi Zaouabi, who works for the online magazine Kalima and Radio Kalima, is reportedly facing up to two years in prison on trumped-up assault charges. Zouabi is a founding member of the Tunisian PEN Centre. The WiPC calls on the Tunisian authorities to release Boukaddous immediately and unconditionally and to ensure that he receives the medical care he requires. It also calls for the charges against Zouabi to be dropped.

The following is an alert issued by the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), of which the WiPC is part:
12 October 2010
IFEX-TMG members call for immediate release of ailing journalist on hunger strike
SOURCE: IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group

(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.

For more information:
IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
Rohan Jayasekera, Chair
c/o Index on Censorship
United Kingdom
rj (@)
Phone: +44 20 7324 2522

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression
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 PEN Writers in Prison Committee
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation (Skills Foundation)
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee

For the French version of this alert, click here: Les membres du TMG de l'IFEX demandent la libération immédiate d'un journaliste gravement malade et en grève de la faim.

For a PDF copy of the IFJ poster (pictured above), email Tamsin Mitchell at