Over more than a decade in power, Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has squeezed the life out of the country’s press. After years of harassment and intimidation, most journalists have learned to censor themselves on sensitive political issues.
Still, a few local journalists continue to defy the authorities. One is Taoufik Ben Brik, a correspondent for several European newspapers including the Paris-based daily La Croix.Ben Brik covers human rights issues, and the government doesn’t like that. Nor do they like his attempts to publicize repeated police violations of what, in a more democratic society than Tunisia, would be called his civil rights.
On April 28, Tunisian airport police confiscated Ben Brik’s passport, preventing him from leaving Tunisia for a planned trip to Switzerland .On May 20, Ben Brik was violently assaulted outside his home by three chain-wielding men believed to be plainclothes policemen. Four days later, uniformed police arrested him without warrant and held him for three hours.
Ben Brik has also been summoned to the Interior Ministry for questioning over his published work, including his accounts of official attempts to silence him. Last January his wife’s car was vandalized in front of their home in Tunis. His telephone and fax lines have been regularly cut. When the telephone works, he gets anonymous, threatening calls.
Throughout this ordeal, Ben Brik has kept writing. In the following essay, he tells us exactly how it feels to bear the full malevolent weight of the Tunisian police state’s attention.