Ben Brik in a 2008 photo. (CPJ/Joel Campagna)
Ben Brik in a 2008 photo. (CPJ/Joel Campagna)

In Tunisia, critical journalist’s appeal rejected

New York, February 1, 2010—A Tunisian appeals court on Saturday upheld a six-month prison sentence against journalist Taoufik Ben Brik, one of President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s toughest critics, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the decision, the latest development in the politically motivated effort to silence Ben Brik.

Ben Brik was charged in November 2009 with assault, property damage, and violating public morality in connection with a purported attack on a woman, according to CPJ interviews and news reports. Ben Brik has denied the allegations and said they were fabricated in reprisal for his critical reporting on Ben Ali. Ben Brik’s lawyers and family were prevented from visiting him for several days prior to last fall’s verdict. Ben Brik was not even brought to the Tunis court when the verdict was issued, his family said.

Ben Brik suffers from diabetes, along with a hormonal disorder that requires regular medication and care. In December, his relatives told CPJ that they were worried about his health and the conditions of his detention.

“We are disappointed by the appeals court’s decision in this highly politicized prosecution,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. “This is the latest in a string of attempts by the government to intimidate independent media and punish critical journalists.”

Saturday’s decision comes just days after Ben Ali offered new assurances to permit critical journalism. In an address to his cabinet on January 22, Ben Ali said that the government “must respect different opinions and accept constructive criticism, while, at the same time, benefiting from sound suggestions and useful evaluations. … We are in a democratic country where the media is free and the citizen is responsible.”