New York, November 14, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists voiced outrage today at the assault on a French reporter in Tunis and the failure of police nearby to intervene. Reporter Christophe Boltanski of the French daily Libération was beaten and stabbed by four men late Friday near his hotel in the capital’s diplomatic quarter, which is heavily patrolled by police. He needed several stitches in a stab wound in his back. He returned to Paris Saturday and is recovering, his paper said.
Boltanski was in Tunisia to investigate human rights abuses in the run-up to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), an international conference on the future of the Internet, which opens in Tunis on Wednesday.
“How can a journalist be savagely beaten and stabbed near police in one of the most heavily-guarded neighborhoods in one of the most tightly controlled states in the Middle East? This is a question the Tunisian government must now answer,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.
On Thursday, Libération published an article in which Boltanski described how human rights activists, demonstrating in solidarity with several leading opposition figures on hunger strike, were beaten by Tunisian police in civilian clothing last week in Tunis. The Tunisian authorities denied the assault on the demonstrators took place. Boltanski also wrote that Tunisian authorities were nervous on the eve of WSIS because Western governments called on them to abide by their international commitment to promote and protect freedom of expression.
Boltanski said in an article in Libération his attackers blinded him with pepper spray and beat him until one of the assailants said in French, “It’s enough.” They took his cell phone, notebook, and personal belongings. Police outside his hotel and the nearby Czech embassy ignored his cries for help. He stumbled into the hotel, his clothing ripped and covered in blood, but police showed no concern, he said.
Boltanski filed a report with police who told him they had detained two suspects. He could not identify his attackers because he was blinded during the assault. Police provided no details of the arrests.
CPJ has documented numerous instances in which assailants presumed to be members of the country’s secret police have frequently assaulted Tunisian journalists who have written critically of the government; however, attacks on foreign reporters are rare. CPJ is unaware of any cases in which assailants of journalists have been identified and prosecuted for their attacks.