In Tunisia, security agents intimidate reporters

New York, December 31, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the intimidation of Tunisian journalists who tried to cover efforts Tuesday by the opposition Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) to demonstrate against Israeli attacks on Gaza. Two journalists were assaulted and three faced harassment in Tunis, according to several CPJ interviews.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Lotfi Hajji told CPJ that an agent punched him in the face at the headquarters of the PDP, where a march was supposed to commence. He said he suffered minor cuts and that his eyeglasses were broken. Mohamed Hamrouni, who writes for the PDP-affiliated newspaper Al-Mawkif and contributes to the Qatari newspaper Al-Arab, was also roughed up when plainclothes police dispersed the crowd attempting to start the protest march, Hajji told CPJ.

“We are troubled by the insistence of Tunisian authorities on stifling the efforts of independent journalists to report on legitimate news stories,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Harassment, arbitrary violence against reporters and censorship, unfortunately the norm in Tunisia, must cease.”

Security agents also blocked Ismail Dbara, a freelance contributor to the online news site Elaph, from reaching downtown Tunis where a march was to take place, according to local journalists. Agents confiscated his cell phone and wallet, they said. Sufyan al-Shurabi, editor and writer for a weekly paper affiliated with the opposition Al-Tajdeed party, was also prevented from reaching Tunis’ main downtown artery, journalists said.

Lotfi Hidouri, contributor to the news Web site Kalima and Tunis correspondent for Al-Quds Press, said three unmarked police cars were deployed outside his home for about three hours on Tuesday and, later, a marked police vehicle took their place. Hidouri said he did not intend to report on the PDP demonstration, but he believed the agents were deployed there to intimidate him and bar him from covering any demonstrations. Earlier this month, Hidouri noted, authorities detained him for 24 hours and barred him from traveling to a journalism conference in Beirut.