Tunisia 25 July 2002

If you read the Tunisian press during your stay, remember that every article printed is checked by the regime.

Censorship is a key weapon in the police state built by President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

The media, whether government or privately-owned, is given over to official propaganda and the foreign press is closely watched. The president doesn’t tolerate any criticism. Those who denounce human rights violations are harassed, arrested or tortured and their families and friends persecuted.

After stamping on the traditional media, the Tunisian regime is now targeting the Internet. The country’ cyber-police are everywhere - blocking access to websites, intercepting people’s e-mail, taking over Internet service providers (ISPs) and closely monitoring cybercafés.

This June, Zouhair Yahyaoui, founder and editor of the news website TUNeZINE, was arrested and tortured. In July he was sentenced to two years in prison - just because he put the views of Tunisian democrats on his site and did not shrink from criticising the regime himself.

Since a 26 May referendum to amend the Constitution which authorised President Ali to have two further terms of office, the regime has again stepped up its attacks on human rights activists, opposition figures and journalists.

The cities that French tourists dream about - Tunis, Sousse, Bizerte - are for many Tunisians also the sites of the country’s best-known prisons, where regime opponents and journalists are jailed or tortured.

Hamadi Jebali, publisher of the daily newspaper Al-Fajr, has been in prison for 10 years now, serving a 16-year sentence for alleged subversion. Earlier he spent a year in jail for publishing an article criticising the country’s system of military courts.

In May 2000, journalist Taoufik Ben Brik staged a 42-day hunger strike to protest against constant government harassment of him and his family. In June last year, Sihem Bensedrine, who runs an online magazine, Kalima, was imprisoned a few days after talking about corruption, torture and government-controlled courts in Tunisia on a London-based Arab TV station. It was only because of international pressure that she was freed.

News in Tunisia? Repression next stop!

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