In Tunisia, police arrest TV journalist

New York, February 8, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled by the overnight arrest of an opposition television station director by Tunisian police in the capital Tunis.

Tahar Ben Hassine, director of Italy-based satellite channel Al-Hiwar Tunisi, was detained by Tunisian police in the Al-Manar neighborhood after leaving Tunisian dissident journalist Taoufik Ben Brik’s apartment around 8 p.m. on Wednesday night.

Police officers stopped Hassine’s car and administered him two alcohol breathalyzer tests and a blood test; all showed his alcohol level well within legal limits, Hassine’s lawyer, Ayachi Hammami, told CPJ. Still, the police held Hassine overnight and took him to court the following day where the judge released him without charge.

Hassine and his lawyer said police concocted the incident as part of an ongoing campaign of harassment against government critics. Hassine told CPJ that Al-Hiwar Tunisi’s staff is regularly harassed by authorities and equipment is often confiscated.

Tunisian authorities frequently bring spurious charges and smears against dissident journalists and activists in an effort to silence them. CPJ has documented at least four cases of abuse against journalists in the last year. In mid-August, Al-Hiwar Tunisi cameraman Taoufik al-Ayachi and daily Al-Chourouk reporter Slim Boukhdir were beaten by police in Tunis when they went to interview the wife of prominent government critic Mohammed Abbou at their home. Al-Ayachi’s camera was confiscated.

“This is harassment, pure and simple,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “It’s shocking that authorities will stop at nothing to intimidate their critics.”

Al-Hiwar Tunisi was established in 2002 by Hassine and broadcasts four hours of programming per week. The channel is sympathetic to the democratic opposition agenda in Tunisia.