In Tunisia, government allies oust syndicate board

New York, August 17, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ousting of the board of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (NSTJ) on Saturday. The syndicate was the only independent organization of its kind in Tunisia for critical journalists, providing them with syndication services among other benefits.

In the latest in a long string of actions meant to eliminate critical media, pro-government journalists held an extraordinary session in Tunis on Saturday in which they elected a new board and president for the NSTJ composed entirely of pro-government members.

In May, following a critical report on the state of media freedom in Tunisia by the NSTJ, pro-government members of the previous board resigned and began circulating a withdrawal of confidence petition to the NSTJ membership. At the time, the democratically elected president of the NSTJ board, Neji Bghouri, told CPJ that journalists were threatened with loss of employment and otherwise intimidated if they did not join the petition.                                                                                              

“The Tunisian government is again working behind the scenes to silence critical voices in the media,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “This is not merely an internal restructuring within the union. This is the latest effort by the government to silence independent media.”

The NSTJ was formed in 2008 after the Tunisian Association of Journalists was made defunct by the government. The new board’s first act was to send a letter to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali commending his “sustained keenness …on further promoting the Tunisian media landscape.” The signatories also expressed their “sincere thanks to the Head of State for the gains and achievements made for the information sector, in general, and journalists, in particular,” the official Tunis Afrique Presse news agency reported.