U.S. officials raise concern about jailed Internet journalist

New York, August 26, 2003— In an August 14 letter to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William J. Burns said that U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed their concern about the ongoing imprisonment of Internet journalist Zouhair Yahyaoui.

“In the last week both Acting Assistant Secretary of State Michael Southwick of the Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor (DRL) and myself have had the opportunity to raise Mr. Yahyaoui’s case with the Tunisian Ambassador to the U.S.,” Burns wrote. He added that U.S. embassy officials in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, discussed Yahyaoui’s case in a July 16 meeting with Tunisian government officials.

Burn’s letter came in response to a July 10 correspondence from CPJ Honorary co-Chairman Terry Anderson, who urged Burns to raise official U.S. concerns about the cases of jailed Tunisian journalists Yahayaoui and Hamadi Jebali.

Yahyaoui has been imprisoned since June 4, 2002. He was sentenced to 28 months in prison on June 20, 2002, after a Tunis court found him guilty of publishing false information and using stolen communication lines to post his site, www.Tunezine.com. An appeals court later reduced the sentence to two years. The charges against Yahyaoui stemmed from chat forums and articles published by Yahyaoui on the site, many of which were critical of Tunisian President Zine El Abdine Ben Ali and the Tunisian government.

Yahyaoui is jailed along with Hamadi Jebali, editor of the Islamist weekly Al-Fajr, the weekly newspaper of the banned Islamic Al-Nahda Party, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison on August 28, 1992. He was tried along with 279 other individuals accused of belonging to Al-Nahda. Jebali was convicted of “aggression with the intention of changing the nature of the state” and “membership in an illegal organization.” Jebali had already been in jail since January 1991, when he was sentenced to one year in prison after Al-Fajr published an article calling for the abolition of military courts in Tunisia.