In Tunisia, court orders transfer of syndicate board

New York, September 8, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a Tunisian court’s decision to recognize a pro-government board of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (NSTJ). Police today physically evicted members of the previous independent board from the syndicate’s offices, according to local journalists.

A court in Tunis today ordered the transfer of the syndicate’s offices to the new board, which was elected in mid-August, after months of a government-sponsored smear campaign against the organization that ousted its president, Neji Bghouri, and four other independent members of its board. Earlier today, the police prevented journalists from accessing the offices on United States Street in Tunis and pushed and verbally assaulted Bghouri, the journalist told CPJ.

Police evicted independent board member Nejiba Hamrouni, three syndicate staffers, and Al-Jazeera correspondent and human rights activist Lotfi Hajji, who were at the offices when police arrived.

“This is just the latest episode in the shameful campaign against critical voices in Tunisia,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “The court’s decision comes as no surprise, given that the government has actively tried to eliminate the board since the syndicate began reporting on the decline of press freedom in the country.”

Following a critical NSTJ report in May on the state of the media, pro-government members of the syndicate resigned and circulated a withdrawal of confidence petition against the elected board. On August 15, pro-government journalists elected a new board and later filed a lawsuit seeking the takeover of the offices of the syndicate.

“There are no limits to the arrogant violation of Tunisian laws, even when the court decision is politically motivated and handed down by a jurisdiction that lacked independence,” Bghouri said.

CPJ wrote two letters to Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in March and July urging him to end repression against critical journalists and the journalists’ syndicate.