Tunisia’s Radio Kalima shuttered; staffers harassed

Ever since Radio Kalima staffers launched their new station on January 26, Tunisian plainclothes police have done everything they can to suppress the newly launched satellite radio station: besieging the offices for several days, threatening a managing editor with a knife, and finally breaking into the building and confiscating the equipment.

The radio station was launched by the same team in charge of the online magazine Kalima, which is blocked within the country, and housed in the same building.

On January 30, after days of surrounding the offices, police confiscated equipment such as computers, phones, recorders, and flash discs, according to the Observatory of Press, Publishing, and Creative Freedom in Tunisia. In this video posted on the Internet, plainclothes police block a visitor who wants to enter the building.

A who judge was present when police took over the building subsequently launched an investigation against Sihem Bensedrine, editor-in-chief of Kalima, for using a “broadcasting frequency without obtaining a legal license,” Lotfi Hidouri, a Kalima contributor, told CPJ. The station broadcasts over the Internet, and via satellite from Italy, whose government has granted permission to use the frequency. Tunisian laws don’t address Internet streaming, both staffers said.

Bensedrine has lately become the target of a smear campaign by the pro-government media, which has accused her of “collecting foreign money”–about 500,000 (US$645,000) annually–under the “banner of alternative media.”  

On Tuesday, plainclothes police stopped Zakiya Dhiffawi, a journalist with Radio Kalima, and checked her purse for a tape recorder while she was leaving a building in downtown Tunis, Hidouri said. Police warned Dhiffawi to stop working at the station, Hidouri told CPJ.

Since Kalima was launched in 2000 almost every single staffer has been harassed, prosecuted, or detained by the Tunisian police, CPJ has found. But the journalists have never given up. Radio Kalima is currently broadcasting from a temporary location, Hidouri said. Instead of recording reports inside Tunisia, staffers now send their transcripts outside the country, where they are then recorded and streamed over the Internet and broadcast via satellite, Hidouri said.