Tunisia must release ailing journalist on hunger strike

New York, October 21, 2010–The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the health of imprisoned Tunisian journalist Fahem Boukadous. We call upon the Tunisian government to release him immediately.

Boukadous, who suffers from acute asthma, started a hunger strike on October 8 to protest the conditions of his detention at Gafsa prison, about 229 miles (369 km) southwest of Tunis.

According to his wife, Afef Bennaceur, who visited him on Monday, his health is deteriorating quickly. “He is in a critical condition. He continues to lose weight and is very weak,” she told CPJ. “I fear for my husband’s health and I call all the free people of the world to help in securing his release.”

Boukadous has been refusing his prescribed medications and has been rushed to the hospital three times since his hunger strike began, she said. Prison authorities have failed to take any measures to improve his condition, she added.

“We hold the Tunisian authorities responsible for the well-being of our colleague Fahem Boukados, whom they have unjustly imprisoned,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “He is on the second week of a hunger strike and suffering from medical complications. We are deeply worried about his health. We urge officials to release him immediately.”

Boukadous is a correspondent for the satellite television station Al-Hiwar al-Tunisi and a contributor to the news website Al-Badeel. He was arrested on July 12, after an appeals court upheld a criminal conviction in connection with his coverage of 2008 labor protests in the Gafsa mining region.

Boukadous was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “belonging to a criminal association” and spreading materials “likely to harm public order.” He was arrested the day after he left a hospital in Sousse, 62 miles (100 km) south of Tunis, where he was being treated for his acute asthma. Tunisian police had unsuccessfully pressured doctors to discharge him from the hospital earlier. His lawyer, Ridha Raddaoui, said the trial was politically motivated.

Bennaceur said, “It is a crime in Tunisia when a journalist is performing his job. When he covers events independently and freely, he is then taken to prison.”

On Monday, 130 journalists, lawyers and activists organized participated in a protest to express solidarity with Boukadous, according to Bennaceur and local news reports.