The United States prematurely welcomed announced the government’s press freedom measures in 2005 and France talked of its supposed respect for civil liberties, but the regime of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali kept an iron grip on state and privately-owned media and continued a wide-ranging crackdown on journalists with the help of a 130,000-strong police force.
The authorities, who hosted the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis from 16 to 18 November, also hit out at human rights activists and opposition supporters.
The national journalists’ union, SJT (with more than 150-members), was forbidden on 7 September to hold its founding congress. Yet the national constitution and the 1966 labour law guarantee freedom to form trade unions. The labour law does not say unions must have prior approval of the government. They just have to notify the authorities and provide a copy of their statutes, which the SJT had already done, in vain.
Two journalists were still in prison in 2005. Hamadi Jebali, former editor of the weekly Al Fajr, has been in jail since 1991 for libel and “belonging to an illegal organisation.”
Lawyer Mohammed Abbou was sentenced to 18 months in prison on 28 April for writing an article on an Internet website. Woman journalist and human rights activist Sihem Bensedrine, editor of the online magazine Kalima, was targeted by an obscene press campaign. Several pro-government dailies, including Al-Chourouk, Al-Hadith and As-Sarih, used sexual imagery to accuse her of selling her soul.