August 23, 2002
His Excellency Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali
President of the Republic of Tunisia
Via facsimile: : 011 (216) 71 744-721
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to protest the eight-month prison sentence handed down today against Tunisian journalist Abdullah Zouari, formerly with the banned Islamist weekly Al-Fajr.
A Tunisian court sentenced Zouari for defying a July 15 interior ministry order banishing him to the small southern Tunisian village of Khariba Hassi Jerbi (near Zarzis) some 600 km (370 miles) from the capital. Zouari was informed of the decision to relocate him by a letter delivered to him at his home in Tunis. He unsuccessfully contested the decision and was arrested on August 19 for defying the order.
Zouari’s arrest comes nearly three months after his release from prison on June 6 when he completed an 11-year sentence for “association with an unrecognized organization.” Zouari was tried by a military court in 1991, along with 279 other individuals, and accused of belonging to the banned Al-Nahda party of which Al-Fajr was its mouthpiece.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ views the banishment and imprisonment of Zouari as a case of outright harassment. We find the decision to force a journalist to relocate hundreds of kilometers from his place of residence as an excessive measure that appears–along with today’s prison sentence–to be an attempt to isolate and further punish him. Such actions conform to a pattern of direct and indirect pressures that Tunisian authorities have applied against those who have criticized them.
We respectfully urge you to do everything within your power to see that Abdullah Zouari is released immediately and that he is allowed to resume his private life without further harassment from Tunisian authorities.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.