For those who have spent countless hours exposing and combating Tunisia’s vast press freedom abuses, today is truly a glorious day. Tunisian authorities released the ailing imprisoned journalist Fahem Boukadous, a day after CPJ called on the transitional government to honor its pledge to free all political prisoners. Today, we can loudly proclaim that no journalist or blogger is imprisoned in the government’s dungeons and that Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s censorship is no longer imposed on Tunisians.
This morning I heard on a news broadcast that Fahem had just been released, and only minutes later I received confirmation from his wife, Afef Bennaceur, via SMS message. I was not able to get through to Fahem directly, but we want to convey to him our heartfelt wishes for a quick recovery. He is recuperating from his harrowing ordeal and celebrating his and his beloved Tunsia’s liberty after many long years of repression.
Three other jailed journalists–Radio Kalima correspondent Nizar Ben Hasan and bloggers Azyz Amamy and Slim Amamou–were released last week as Ben Ali’s regime collapsed.
On this glorious day we celebrate their freedom and the restoration of the Tunisian people’s right to report, impart, and share the news without fear of reprisal. But on a day like this it is also incumbent to remember and honor the sacrifices of so many journalists who have paid an enormous price to report the news. Among them is Zouhair Yahyaoui, Tunisia’s first proto-blogger, who was imprisoned by Ben Ali’s repressive security apparatus for daring to counter the government-approved narrative. Zouhair died of a heart attack at the age of 37, almost certainly precipitated by the vindictive treatment he was subjected to during his 18 months in Ben Ali’s brutal prisons. We also mourn the loss of Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, a French photographer who died of head injuries sustained while he covered the civil unrest that brought an end to Ben Ali’s brutal 23-year long rule. Let us remember Zouhair, Lucas, and the others who took on great personal risk to bring us the news.