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How CPJ investigates and classifies attacks on the press

AUGUST 24, 2005
Posted: August 29, 2005

Lotfi Hajji, Tunisian Journalists Syndicate
Tunisian Journalists Syndicate

Security officials in Tunis interrogated Lotfi Hajji, head of the Tunisian Journalists Syndicate (SJT), for five hours, the journalist told CPJ. A security official told Hajji that the government had decided to bar the SJT from holding its first congress, which was scheduled for September 7 in Tunis. The congress was supposed to elect the group's first board of directors.

The official also told Hajji that the group could not hold a seminar, planned for the same week, which would have brought together journalists from throughout North Africa.

The SJT was founded in May 2004 by independent Tunisian journalists frustrated by the country's poor press freedom record and the failure of the country's existing press associations to speak out against harassment of the media.

Security authorities have summoned Hajji for questioning twice before. The interrogations took place in May after the release of an SJT report about attacks on the press in Tunisia. Hajji said he was warned that the Tunisian authorities do not recognize the SJT.

The harassment came as the Tunisian government was preparing to host the World Summit for the Information Society, a United Nation-sponsored gathering seeking to establish international regulations for the Internet. Thousands of government, business, media, and human rights leaders were due to attend the November summit.

NOVEMBER 11, 2005
POSTED: December 2, 2005

Christophe Boltanski, Libération

Boltanski, a reporter with the French daily Libération, was beaten and stabbed by four men near his hotel in the diplomatic quarter of Tunis, which was heavily patrolled by police. He needed several stitches in a stab wound in his back. Boltanski was in Tunisia to investigate human rights abuses in the run-up to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), an international conference on the future of the Internet, which opened November 16.

On November 10, Libération published an article in which Boltanski described how human rights activists, demonstrating in solidarity with several leading opposition figures on hunger strike, were beaten by Tunisian police in civilian clothing the previous week in Tunis. The Tunisian authorities denied the assault on the demonstrators took place. Boltanski also wrote that Tunisian authorities were nervous on the eve of WSIS because Western governments called on them to abide by their international commitment to promote and protect freedom of expression.

Boltanski said in an article in Libération his attackers blinded him with pepper spray and beat him until one of the assailants said in French, "It's enough." They took his cell phone, notebook, and personal belongings. Police outside his hotel and the nearby Czech embassy ignored his cries for help. He stumbled into the hotel, his clothing ripped and covered in blood, but police showed no concern, he said.

Boltanski filed a report with police who told him they had detained two suspects. He could not identify his attackers because he was blinded during the assault. Police provided no details of the arrests.

CPJ has documented numerous instances in which assailants presumed to be members of the country's secret police have frequently assaulted Tunisian journalists who have written critically of the government; however, attacks on foreign reporters are rare. CPJ was unaware of any cases in which assailants of journalists had been identified and prosecuted for their attacks.