Journalists still being assaulted in Tunisia

New York, January 13, 2012– The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns recent attacks on the press in Tunisia. A journalist was assaulted while covering a protest at the interior ministry Wednesday, and two female journalists were assaulted last week. 

Sofiane Bin Hmida, who works for the private broadcaster Nessma TV, was physically assaulted Wednesday at the interior ministry while covering a sit-in, according to the official Agence Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP). The protest, by internal security forces and others, was calling for the dismissal of the head of internal security, who is associated with the former regime, news reports said. Bin Hmida told TAP that the assailants were activists from Al-Nahda, the majority party in the current coalition government, who were staging a counter protest. The journalist has been critical of Al-Nahda and told TAP that he believes the attack was prompted by his critical views.

On January 4, two female journalists — Sana Farhat from the French-language daily Le Temps and Maha Ouelhezi, a writer for the news website Web Manager Center — were assaulted by plainclothes police officers while covering a demonstration outside the ministry of higher education, according to local and regional news reports. Farhat was dragged by her hair on the ground and her press card and camera were seized. Ouelhezi’s camera was seized and smashed, according to the same sources.

“We are disturbed that a full year after the overthrow Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, journalists are still being beaten in broad daylight in the streets of Tunis,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “The government cannot claim to uphold press freedom if it fails to prosecute those who attack the media.”

The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists protested attacks on journalists on January 9 in Tunis, it said in a statement on its website. The syndicate also protested the appointments of individuals with ties to the former regime to leadership positions in the main media outlets in the country: the state-run TAP news agency; the two high-circulation dailies, La Presse and Al-Sahafa, and state television and radio.

The government told the syndicate that it would investigate recent attacks on journalists.

CPJ has documented previous attacks on journalists in Tunisia since the regime’s fall a year ago. In May, plainclothes police physically assaulted 15 local and international journalists while they were covering demonstrations.