CPJ calls for immediate release of Tunisian journalist

New York, July 15, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Tunisian authorities to immediately release Fahem Boukadous, a correspondent for the satellite television station Al-Hiwar al-Tunisi, and to overturn his four-year prison sentence.

The Tunisian police arrested Boukadous today at Farhat Hached Hospital in Sousse. The journalist had been discharged Wednesday after being treated for respiratory problems, according to news reports. His wife told CPJ that he was arrested early this morning when he returned to the hospital to get a copy of his medical report.  

The arrest came after a July 6 court of appeals decision to sentence Boukadous to a four-year prison term on charges of “belonging to a criminal association” and spreading materials “likely to harm public order.” He was sentenced in connection with his coverage of violent labor protests in the Gafsa mining region in 2008. Boukadous could not attend the hearing; he was in the hospital because of asthma. He told CPJ last week that police had unsuccessfully pressured hospital officials to discharge him in time for the hearing. His lawyer, Ridha Raddaoui, called the hearing politically motivated.

“We hold the Tunisian authorities responsible for the welfare of Fahem Bouakdous. Our colleague is sick and should not be in prison,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “His detention has all the hallmarks of a sustained campaign of harassment of a critical journalist. He must be freed immediately and his conviction overturned.”

Raddaoui told CPJ that Boukadous is currently being held in Gafsa prison. “His life is in danger,” he said. Gafsa prison’s capacity is 300-350 prisoners and currently there are approximately 750 prisoners being held there, according to Raddaoui. “Most of the new prisoners sleep on the floor; his health condition does not allow that,” he said. He called for an international campaign to release Boukadous from prison.