New York, April 26, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called for a full and transparent investigation into the police beating of Zuhair Makhlouf, contributor to Tunisian news Web site Assabil Online.
In a telephone interview, Makhlouf told CPJ that eight plainclothes police officers arrived at his home at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and informed him that he was under arrest. Makhlouf said he asked them to show him an arrest warrant but instead they beat him in front of his wife and two children and took him to Borj Ouzir police station in Ariana, a town just outside of Tunis. He was interrogated and verbally abused before being released seven hours later. He suffered from a broken nose, a black eye, and several bruises.
Makhlouf said that he believed authorities arrested him to prevent him from attending a dinner later that day with prominent French lawyer and head of the Paris Bar Association Christian Charrière-Bournazel, who was in Tunis to meet with journalists and rights activists. Although the Saturday incident prevented Makhlouf from going to the dinner, the two were able to meet on Sunday. He said his doctor put him on a 21-day medical leave to recover from his injuries, and that he and his lawyer “are talking about suing the police but we have little faith in the Tunisian judiciary system.”
“We are outraged by this vicious attack on Zuhair Makhlouf and call on the authorities to identify and punish those who ordered and executed it,” said CPJ's Middle East & North Africa Coordinator, Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “This is becoming an all-too familiar pattern of judicial and police harassment in Tunisia.”
Makhlouf recently spent more than three months in jail after publishing an article about pollution in the industrial areas in Nabeul, south of Tunis.
In other news, Taoufik Ben Brik, a well-known contributor to European media outlets is due to be released later this week after serving a six-month prison sentence on trumped-up charges. And a court in the southern mining district of Gafsa is due on Tuesday to resume hearing journalist Fahem Boukadous’ appeal against a four-year jail sentence handed down to him in a politicized trial.