Tunisian journalist wages second hunger strike in five months

New York, September 23, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the health of imprisoned Tunisian journalist Hamadi Jebali, who has been on a hunger strike for eight days to protest 14 years of unjust imprisonment. CPJ today called for his immediate release.

His wife, Wahida Jebali, told CPJ that the journalist’s health has deteriorated and he often refers to his cell as his “grave.” After her weekly visit to a Mahdia prison, Wahida Jebali described her husband as nervous, tired, and emaciated. Although he encouraged his family “to keep praying for better days,” she feared he could not withstand imprisonment much longer.

Jebali’s wife and three daughters have been denied passports by the Tunisian government, and they are prohibited from leaving the country. His two eldest daughters had to forgo plans for postgraduate studies abroad.

Jebali, former editor of Al-Fajr, the now-defunct weekly newspaper of the banned Islamic Al-Nahda party, was first imprisoned in 1991 for an article in which he called for the abolition of military tribunals in Tunisia. Tried the following year by a military court, along with 279 others accused of belonging to Al-Nahda, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

International human rights groups monitoring the mass trial concluded that the proceedings fell far below international standards of justice. The state presented no evidence against Jebali, implicitly basing the charge on his association with Al-Fajr.

Jebali went on a hunger strike from April 9 to 25 of this year to seek better prison conditions. He had been held in extended solitary confinement and provided an inadequate diet. He was transferred from a prison in Sfax to a prison in Mahdia, which is closer to his family home in Sousse, southeast of Tunis.

Jebali’s continued imprisonment comes as the Tunisian government is preparing to host the World Summit for the Information Society, a United Nation-sponsored gathering seeking to establish international regulations for the Internet. Thousands of government, business, media, and human rights leaders are due to attend the November summit.

“The harsh conditions that Hamadi Jebali has endured in prison compound the terrible injustice already done to him,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The Tunisian government, which is about to welcome international leaders to discuss the global exchange of ideas on the Internet, should pay heed to the principles of free expression by releasing Hamadi Jebali now.”