had just spent eight months in prison for writing critical articles about Ben
Ali, told CPJ that he was abducted on September 20 by four plainclothes police
officers as he was heading to an Internet café in his hometown of
Boukhdhir, a contributor to
numerous Tunisian and Arab news Web sites, said he believed the abduction had been
sparked by an online article describing U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice's September 6 visit to
Boukhdhir had been freed from prison on July 21, shortly after CPJ
concluded a fact-finding mission to
In July, Ben Ali accepted the nomination of his party, the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally, to run for a fifth term in 2009. As he has in the past, Ben Ali issued a disingenuous call for the news media to end rampant self-censorship. "We have constantly considered freedom of expression as a fundamental human right," Reuters quoted Ben Ali as saying on World Press Freedom Day in May. "We reiterate our call to redouble efforts ... to diversify and enrich spaces of dialogue in the various media to guarantee developed and audacious national information ... away from all forms of self-censorship and external censorship."
Ben Ali's words were consistently belied by the government's
repressive policies and its abusive actions toward
Authorities tightly control the licensing of broadcasters and the distribution of state advertising. This decade, the National Frequencies Agency has licensed just one television station and three radio broadcasters, all of which are owned by business interests close to the regime. The agency's approval criteria have never been disclosed, and several independent applicants have never gotten a response from the agency. The Tunisian External Communication Agency, which distributes advertising for government agencies and publicly owned companies, punishes outspoken media by withholding advertising, CPJ research showed. That agency doesn't disclose guidelines on how it doles out ads.
Independent journalists, some of whom double as human rights activists, are regular targets of harassment, CPJ found. Their phone lines are cut, they receive anonymous threats, their e-mail is hacked, they are placed under police surveillance, and they are denied the right to travel freely.
Abdallah Zouari, a reporter for the now-defunct Islamist weekly Al-Fajr, remained under virtual house
arrest, more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) from his wife and children in
The long-term obstruction of the independent news Web site Kalima and the harassment of its editors provided another stark example of the government's tactics. For the fifth time in nine years, founder Sihem Bensedrine unsuccessfully sought permission to produce a print edition of Kalima; officials at the Ministry of Interior would not accept her application in 2008. Although Kalima's Web site remained blocked in Tunisia, its biting critiques of the government were available, and widely read, abroad. In March, customs officials at the port of La Goulette roughed up Bensedrine and seized documents, computer discs, and a cell phone as she and her husband, Omar Mestiri, Kalima's managing editor, returned from Europe. In August, border police at Tunis-Carthage International Airport prevented Bensedrine from boarding a plane bound for Vienna, Austria. In October, vandals hacked into Kalima's site, hosted in France, shutting it down and destroying eight years of archives. When Editor Neziha Rejiba wrote an opinion piece for the opposition weekly Mouatinoun attributing the destruction to state agents, the government seized copies of the weekly and summoned Rejiba to court for potential prosecution.
Mouatinoun, affiliated with the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties, and Al-Mawkif, owned by the Progressive Democratic Party, maintained a consistently critical editorial policy. Both were subjected to regular harassment, CPJ research showed.
In March, copies of Al-Mawkif began to disappear from kiosks after the paper ran tough stories on human rights abuses and a questionable deal involving a businessman close to Ben Ali. Over four weeks in March and April, vendors reported that security agents had scooped up copies in bulk, Editor Rachid Kechana said. Al-Mawkif also discovered large numbers of undistributed copies in the offices of its circulation contractor, Sotupresse. Although Sotupresse denied withholding copies from distribution, Al-Mawkif's circulation, ordinarily about 10,000, plummeted to 744 one week.
Mouatinoun also faced political and economic obstacles. Mustafa Ben Jaafar, the paper's director, said plainclothes security agents had camped outside the building where he published. "They are there 24 hours a day," Ben Jaafar told CPJ. "This is a form of intimidation for ordinary citizens."
"You can write about sports all you want," Al-Jazeera correspondent Lotfi Hajji told CPJ. "But issues important to society, like the demonstrations in Redeyef, the press can't do anything except print what the government wants." Hajji himself has been denied official accreditation and blocked from covering news stories.
Ben Ali's government has enjoyed strong relations with the
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA: Regional Analysis
Pre-empting the Satellite TV Revolution
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA: Country Summaries
|Israel /Occupied Palestinian Territory||Yemen|
|Lebanon||Other Attacks and Developments in the Region|
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