Tunisia denies passport to formerly imprisoned journalist

His Excellency Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali
President of the Republic of Tunisia
c/o His Excellency Ambassador Mohammed Nejib Hachana
1515 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005

Via Facsimile: 202 862 1858

Dear Mr. President,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to protest your government’s continuing refusal to grant journalist Slim Boukhdhir a passport.

Since 2003, Tunisian authorities have refused Boukhdhir a passport despite repeated requests. The journalist’s lawyer, Mohamed Abbou, told CPJ that so far the authorities have not explained why. The last time Boukhdhir applied for one was in November 2007, he told CPJ. On August 11, his lawyers filed a formal complaint with the Ministry of Interior, requesting an update on his application status. They have not yet received an answer.

CPJ believes that Boukhdhir is being denied his passport and is being harassed by Tunisian authorities because of articles he published online that were critical of Tunisian authorities.

Boukhdhir, a journalist who writes for several online Arabic Web sites and newspapers, just served nearly a year in Sfax Prison after he was convicted in November 2007 on what were widely seen as fabricated charges of insulting a public employee, violating “public decency,” and refusing to hand over identification to police. He was released on July 21 and, until yesterday, authorities withheld the journalist’s identification card, when an unknown person whom he believes was a security agent threw the card into his home’s window in Sfax, he told CPJ.

Boukhdhir also said that since his release he has been under constant police surveillance. He said he believes his phone is being monitored, noting that the line has been cut when he has conducted interviews for regional television stations, he told CPJ, and that whenever he uses his phone security police soon appear nearby.

In the past, Boukhdhir has gone on hunger strikes to protest police harassment and the government’s refusal to grant him a passport. Abbou told CPJ that his client submitted an application and the necessary documents to obtain a passport in early November 2007, a few weeks before he was arrested. Authorities had promised that he would be able to obtain a passport, Abbou said.

CPJ views this harassment as punishment for Boukhdhir’s critical journalism and as such a flagrant violation of basic press freedom standards. Regrettably, Boukhdhir’s case is not an isolated incident. CPJ has documented numerous cases of journalists who have had their passports denied by the government over the years in retaliation for their criticisms.

We call on you to ensure that Slim Boukhdhir receives his passport without further delay and is able to travel freely as is his right, and that authorities cease their harassment.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.

Joel Simon
Executive Director