After advocacy, Tunisian sees end of cruel punishment

The government’s cruel treatment of Tunisian journalist Abdallah Zouari came to an end on August 1, a reminder that even the most autocratic regimes will yield to international pressure for press freedom. Zouari, a former reporter for the now-defunct Islamic weekly Al-Fajr, had been forced to live under a form of house arrest since his release from prison in 2002 following an 11-year term. Living under what was called “administrative control,” Zouari was subjected to strict police surveillance and forced to reside in the suburbs of the southern city of Zarzis, hundreds of miles from his family. No more.

The banishment, which was punctuated over the past years by police harassment, came to an end shortly after CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon raised the injustice in a letter to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. It was the second CPJ letter in four months to protest reprisals against critical journalists and their families. CPJ also urged Ben Ali “to take immediate and decisive action” to end the harassment and to bring his “government’s practices in line with international standards for free expression.”

In an August 21 letter, Zouari thanked CPJ for its “efforts to end the injustice inflicted” on him during those seven years of banishment.

The CPJ decision to side with me and to back my just cause always sharpened my determination and was like sparkling oil lamps that helped me to see through the pitch darkness enveloping my daily life and to remind me that the days of injustice, however long they might be, are numbered and that there would always be people committed to just causes.

“As a token of gratitude to CPJ,” Zouari said he has committed himself “to fully perform the duty of solidarity with every journalist and every human being whose right happened to be abused anywhere in the world.”

On Saturday, Zouari paid a visit to his former Al Fajr colleague and prison-mate Hamadi Jebali in Sousse, south of Tunis. Judging by the way plainclothes police closely monitored the visit, Zouari might find ample reason to campaign for free expression right at home.