CPJ condemns prison term against Tunisian TV journalist

New York, July 6, 2010—An appeals court in Tunisia today upheld a criminal conviction and prison sentence handed down to Fahem Boukadous, a correspondent for the satellite television station Al-Hiwar al-Tunisi, in connection with his coverage of violent labor protests in the Gafsa mining region in 2008. 

Boukadous faces a four-year prison term on charges of “belonging to a criminal association” and spreading materials “likely to harm public order.” 
In an interview with CPJ, Boukadous said he is suffering from acute asthma and had been admitted to Farhat Hached Hospital in Sousse on Friday. He said he was unable to attend today’s appellate court hearing in Gafsa. Boukadous told CPJ that Tunisian police had unsuccessfully pressured hospital officials to discharge him in time for the hearing.
“We condemn the appeals court decision, which punishes our colleague Fahem Boukadous for reporting the news,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We’re also troubled by reports that authorities may have pressured the hospital to discharge Boukadous. Tunisian authorities should halt their constant harassment of independent and critical journalists.”
Defense lawyers were prevented from presenting an argument before the appellate court, said defense attorney Ridha Raddaoui, who called the hearing politically motivated. Boukadous called today’s outcome a “pre-prepared political sentence issued by the court against a journalist who covered events” that were unfavorable to the government. 
Boukadous, reporting for Al-Hiwar al-Tunisi, a Tunisian television station that broadcasts from Italy, had covered demonstrations against corruption and cronyism among government and labor official in the south of the country.
Boukaddous is the third Tunisian journalist to be sentenced to prison in less than 10 months. Zouhair Makhlouf and Taoufik Ben Brik were sentenced respectively to three and six months in prison.