Who Shot Riad Ben Fadhel? On anniversary of assassination attempt against Tunisian journalist, CPJ calls for justice

New York, May 22, 2001 — CPJ today called on the Tunisian government to bring to justice the perpetrators of last year’s assassination attempt against Tunisian journalist Riad Ben Fadhel, who was wounded in a drive-by shooting outside his home in the capital, Tunis. Ben Fadhel was shot on May 23, 2000, just days after publishing a negative article about President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

CPJ’s call comes on the one-year anniversary of the attack. Despite official pledges to investigate, Tunisian authorities have failed to arrest a single suspect, to CPJ’s knowledge.

Ben Fadhel, a former editor of the Arabic edition of the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique and a contributor to the daily Le Monde, was seriously wounded by unknown assailants on the morning of May 23, 2000. Two men in a car pulled up next to Ben Fadhel as he was getting into his own vehicle outside his home in the Tunis suburb of Carthage. One of the men reportedly shouted at Ben Fadhel before opening fire, calling him a “traitor dog.” He sustained bullet wounds to his upper body, but survived the attack.

The attack took place three days after Ben Fadhel published an opinion piece in Le Monde that criticized the Ben Ali government’s handling of the Taoufik Ben Brik case. (Ben Brik is a Tunisian journalist and human rights activist who launched a 43-day hunger strike last April to protest government harassment against him and his family.)

In the article, titled “Let’s Get Rid of the Carthage Syndrome,” Ben Fadhel suggested that Ben Ali should step down at the end of his current term. The shooting took place just a few miles from the Presidential Palace, one of the most secure areas in the entire country.
President Ben Ali met with Ben Fadhel on May 28, 2000, five days after the attack. According to press reports, the Tunisian leader assured Ben Fadhel that the “truth would be brought to light.” However, to CPJ’s knowledge, no one has been arrested in connection with the crime. Nor has there been any indication that a serious investigation was ever launched.

On May 3, 2001, CPJ named Ben Ali to its annual list of the 10 Worst Enemies of the Press for the fourth year in a row. With the exception of a few courageous journalists, Tunisian state harassment has produced one of the most heavily self-censored presses in the region.

“The failure of the Ben Ali government to get to the bottom of this shocking attack sends a chilling message to Tunisian journalists, who already operate in a formidable climate of fear,” said CPJ Middle East program coordinator Joel Campagna. “If President Ben Ali’s claims to support freedom of the press are to be taken seriously, local authorities must prove their commitment by bringing the perpetrators to justice.”