Tunisian authorities repeatedly harass prominent journalist

New York, April 9, 2007—A prominent Tunisian correspondent and press freedom advocate was physically prevented from attending and covering a ceremony, the latest in a series of harassing incidents over the last three years.

On Friday evening, Lotfi Hajji, head of the Tunisian Journalists Syndicate (SJT), was prevented from attending and covering a reception at the new offices of the Tunisian Progressive Democratic Party located on Tayib al-Mahiri Street in Ariana, north of Tunis, by several political police officers in plainclothes.

“Journalists can’t do their jobs if they’re not free to attend and cover political events. The attacks on Lofti Hajji over the last several years make clear there was a concerted campaign by Tunisian government aimed at preventing him from doing his job,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.

Around 50 police officers, led by the political police chief in Ariana governorate, congregated outside the party’s offices. When Hajji arrived with several colleagues, the officers told him that he was not allowed into the party’s offices, while his colleagues could enter. About 15 officers pulled him by his clothing and violently pushed him away.

Progressive Democratic Party heads at the office intervened, demanding the political police chief allow Hajji to attend the ceremony. But he refused and it was canceled in protest.

Hajji told CPJ that over the past month he’s been prevented several times from attending meetings of political parties, including the opposition Progressive Democratic Party and the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties, or visiting prominent human rights lawyer and activist Ayachi Hammami.

Police began harassing Hajji in May 2004, when he helped set up the beleaguered Tunisian Journalists Syndicate. He was targeted not only as head of the syndicate, which was prevented from holding its first general assembly in September 2005, but also as a correspondent for Al-Jazeera. Hajji was denied a national press card and accreditation as correspondent for the Arabic satellite-TV channel, which remains banned in Tunisia.

In May 2006, Hajji was briefly detained by police who accused him of holding a “secret meeting at his home.” He was briefly held again in June 2006 for quoting a statement by a local human rights group about the alleged torture of a Tunisian prisoner in an article published on Al-Jazeera’s Web site.