New York, May 26, 2000–The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today condemned Tuesday’s assassination attempt against Tunisian journalist Riad Ben Fadhel, which occurred only days after the journalist published an article criticizing Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Ben Fadhel, a former editor of the Arabic edition of France’s Le Monde Diplomatique, was seriously wounded by an unknown assailant outside his Carthage home on the morning of May 23. The attack occurred when an automobile with two men inside pulled up next to Ben Fadhel as he was getting into his own vehicle. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, one of the men shouted at Ben Fadhel, calling him a “traitor dog” before opening fire. Press reports have variously stated that Ben Fadhel was wounded in the shoulder, neck, or chest.
“Journalists must feel free to criticize their governments and this horrendous attack suggests that some people in Tunisia do not accept that,” said CPJ’s Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The only way to determine the truth is for President Ben Ali to order a credible, independent investigation into this attack and make its findings public. The perpetrators, whoever they may be, must be brought to justice.”
Sources in Tunis told CPJ that the journalist is being treated at the Al-Taoufik Clinic in Tunis and that his condition had stabilized. They also said that authorities were restricting access to the journalist.
The attack took place three days after Ben Fadhel, who now works for an advertising firm, penned an opinion piece for the daily Le Monde which was critical of Ben Ali and the government’s handling of the case of journalist Taoufik Ben Brik. Ben Brik, a journalist who has frequently criticized the government, launched a 43-day hunger strike on April 3 to protest government harassment in a country where authorities have ruthlessly suppressed virtually all critical voices in the media.
In the article, titled “Let’s Get Rid of the Carthage Syndrome,” Ben Fadhel said that with the Ben Brik affair “[t]he apparatus of government became entangled in a case that never, never should have taken on the proportions that it did.”
“The Ben Brik affair, beyond demonstrating the necessity to endlessly renew the fight to respect everyone’s right to free expression and free movement, reveals the increasing myopia of the Tunisian administration,” he wrote.
“Why this paralysis of the Tunisian administration, which is incapable of defending the president of the republic, who considers himself the victim of a shrewdly orchestrated campaign of denigration?” he asked.
In an interview published in Le Monde today, Ben Fadhel said that he “hopes with all his heart that one is wrong in supposing that there is a link between my article in Le Monde and this assassination attempt.”
Ben Fadhel also rejected assertions from the official Tunisian media that the journalist had attempted suicide, calling them a “a tissue of lies.”