Internet journalist sentenced to twenty-eight months in prison

New York, June 20, 2002—
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the 28-month prison sentence handed down today in the trial of Zouhair Yahyaoui, editor of the online publication Tunezine.

A Tunis court found Yahyaoui guilty of intentionally publishing false information, a violation of Article 306 of the country’s Penal Code. The charge was in response to a number of articles posted on Tunezine, including a recent piece that criticized the May 26 constitutional referendum in which 99.52 percent of voters approved constitutional changes to allow President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to run for a fourth term as president.

Yahyaoui was also found guilty of using stolen communication lines to post his Web site, a violation of section 84 of the Telecommunications Code.

“The imprisonment of Zohair Yahyaoui is further testimony to the Tunisian government’s determination to silence media criticism,” said CPJ executive director, Ann Cooper. “Yahyaoui has been unjustly jailed and should be released immediately.”

A source at the trial told CPJ that Yahyaoui protested by refusing to be present during the trial. According to the source, Yahyaoui’s lawyers have ten days to submit an appeal. Yahyaoui remains in custody.

Since Yahyaoui established Tunezine in July 2001 using a pseudonym, the site has frequently run articles and commentary—including the views of leading Tunisian dissidents—that are highly critical of the Tunisian government.

Tunisian authorities have blocked the Web site to users inside Tunisia, but Tunezine has often circumvented these barriers by establishing alternate addresses.

Yahyaoui has been detained since June 4, when he was picked up at the Internet cafe where he works.