Journalist attacked after being released from prison

New York, August 20, 2001—Plainclothes police officers attacked Tunisian journalist and human rights activist Sihem Bensedrine and a group of her supporters on August 17 as they gathered to celebrate her recent release from prison, Bensedrine told CPJ.

Bensedrine was jailed for six weeks after criticizing the Tunisian government during a June 17 television appearance in London.

As Bensedrine and about 150 to 200 supporters and friends gathered in front of an events hall in the afternoon, about 200 plainclothes police officers refused to let them enter. The police attacked them after the guests refused to disperse and sang the Tunisian national anthem.

One officer kicked Bensedrine in the side. Her husband and 13-year-old daughter were also beaten, along with several of her supporters.

“We condemn the actions of Tunisian authorities who first jailed Bensedrine and have now beaten her in the street,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “The government of President Zine Al-Abdine Ben Ali has made it abundantly clear that it will tolerate no criticism in the press.”

Bensedrine was arrested on June 26 after returning from London, where she had taken part in a televised debate about Tunisian human rights on Al Mustaqilla, a London-based Arabic television station owned by émigré Tunisian dissident Mohammed El Hachimi Hamdi.

She was released from prison on August 12, but continues to face charges of “undermining the authority of the judiciary and spreading false information with the aim of undermining public authority.”

According to Bensedrine, the court has until December to continue with the case or it will be automatically dropped.

Bensedrine is the spokeswoman for the non-governmental National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT) and the editor of an Internet magazine called Kalima.