Tunisian Authorities' Continue to Harass Ben Brik

April 20, 1999 12:00 AM ET

April 20,1999

His Excellency Zine El-Abdine Ben Ali
President of the Republic of Tunisia
c/o His Excellency Noureddine Mejjoub
1515 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20005



Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nongovernmental organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, is writing to strongly protest the Tunisian authorities' continued harassment of Taoufik Ben Brik, a freelance reporter working for a number of European newspapers, including the Paris-based daily La Croix.

CPJ has learned that on April 28, 1999, Ben Brik was prevented by Tunisian authorities from leaving the country for a planned trip to Switzerland after police at Tunis-Carthage Airport confiscated his passport, claiming that the document was missing a page and therefore Ben Brik could not travel. According to our information, the police had apparently ripped out the page themselves before bringing it to Ben Brik's attention. The officers then kept his passport and politely told the journalist that he should go to the Ministry of Interior on Thursday, April 29.

Wednesday's incident appears to be the most recent in a series of disturbing actions taken by Tunisian authorities and suspected state agents against Ben Brik. Last year, on June 18, Ben Brik was summoned to the Ministry of Interior headquarters in Tunis by two plainclothes police officers and brought before Mohammad Ali Ganzoui, assistant to the Minister of Interior. During their encounter, Ganzoui accused Ben Brik of writing "subversive" material-a reference to a June 12, 1998, article carrying the byline of Ben Brik and La Croix senior reporter Julia Ficatier. The article discussed, among other things, police harassment in Tunisia including arbitrary raids and searches of people's homes. Ganzoui subsequently urged Ben Brik to cease his work as a journalist.

Ben Brik has experienced other forms of aggravation: his telephone and fax lines have been regularly interrupted, making it difficult or impossible to receive or place calls, and he has received anonymous threatening phone calls. On January 28, 1999, his wife's car was vandalized by a group of five men who drove up in a Peugeot 405 automobile. They proceeded to smash the car's windows and windshield and stole a baby seat from the car. Later that evening, Ben Brik received an anonymous phone call, informing him that "you haven't seen anything yet." The incident followed Ben Brik's publication earlier that month of an article in the Swiss daily La Tribune de Genéve titled, "Ben Ali's Quest for New Mandate Faces Student Challenge." The article discussed the recent release of seven students who had been arrested after protesting measures instituted by the Ministry of Higher Education, limiting the number of teaching positions for graduate students.

The actions against Ben Brik follow a long-standing pattern of official reprisal against journalists working in Tunisia who have attempted to exercise even the slightest degree of independence. Over the years, our organization has documented numerous examples of government reprisals against journalists, including the dismissal from their jobs, the denial of accreditation, and restrictions on foreign travel. Since 1991, four foreign correspondents have been expelled from the country for what authorities have deemed their critical coverage of Tunisian affairs. As a result of these measures, the press in Tunisia operates under a climate of strict self-censorship.

CPJ views Wednesday's action against Taoufik Ben Brik as an attempt by Tunisian authorities to intimidate the press and discourage investigative reporting. Such measures represent flagrant violations of the right to "seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers," as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CPJ respectfully urges Your Excellency to ensure that Tunisian authorities immediately cease their harassment of Taoufik Ben Brik and allow him to carry out his professional duties without state interference. We also urge Your Excellency to end all state restrictions on the media and to cease government reprisal against journalists for their reporting of news and opinion.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.
Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director






Join CPJ in Protesting Attacks on the Press in Tunisia

Send a letter to:


His Excellency Zine El-Abdine Ben Ali
President of the Republic of Tunisia
c/o His Excellency Noureddine Mejjoub
1515 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20005

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