New York, January 6, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by repeated death threats made against a critical Tunisian journalist living in France.
Slim Bagga, former editor of the now-defunct opposition monthly L’Audace, told CPJ the latest threat arrived at his Paris home in December in the form of a letter mailed from Lebanon and signed by a man claiming he is a Palestinian refugee living in northern Lebanon. “You will never escape our vengeance. Neither will your companions among the pawns of Zionism and remnants of despicable colonialism,” said the letter, signed by a man calling himself Abu Hazem. The writer called Bagga a “traitor.”
Human rights lawyers told CPJ that the threat reflects a “dangerous escalation” in tactics against critical journalists and democracy advocates. Bagga and Ahmed Bennour, a former Tunisian ambassador living in Paris who received a similar threat, issued a statement calling on French authorities to fully investigate.
Bagga, who has been a target of government-backed smear campaigns, told CPJ he believes Tunisian authorities had promoted this and several earlier threats mailed from Egypt, France, and Syria. In November, the Tunisian government-backed weekly Kull Ennass said Palestinian groups were keeping Bagga and Kamel Jendoubi, head of a Paris-based Tunisian human rights group, under surveillance and planning to “settle old scores with them” for “collaborating with the Israeli and European secret services” and “plotting against the Palestinian Resistance and Arab states.”
“We are deeply disturbed by the death threats sent to our colleague Slim Bagga, which appear to echo what government-backed media has been saying. We call on the French authorities to investigate thoroughly and to ensure the safety of our colleague,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We urge President Ben Ali to bring rising attacks against critical journalists to an end.”
Bagga told CPJ he believes the latest threat stems from the Tunisian government’s anger over the recent publication in France of La Regente de Carthage, a book detailing the influence of Ben Ali’s wife over political and economic life. The two French authors thanked Bagga for his “precious insight” and for being one of their main sources of information.
Meanwhile, scores of Tunisian bloggers, journalists, and civil society advocates launched a hunger strike on Tuesday to denounce the ongoing imprisonment of journalists Taoufik Ben Brik and Zouhair Maklouf, according to local and international human rights groups. Earlier today, Ben Brik’s wife, Azza Zarrad and other relatives also began a hunger strike, according to Naziha Rejiba, an independent Tunisian journalist and 2009 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee.