October 18, 2010

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
Palais Présidentiel
Tunis, Tunisia
Fax: +216 71 744 721

Minister of Justice and Human Rights
Lazhar Bououni
31 Boulevard Bab Benat
1006 Tunis – La Kasbah
Fax: +216 71 568 106

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our grave concern regarding the rapidly deteriorating health of imprisoned Tunisian journalist Fahem Boukaddous, as well as the charges against journalist and founding PEN member Mouldi Zouabi.

According to our information, Fahem Boukaddous, correspondent for the Al-Badeel news web site and correspondent for the satellite channel Al-Hiwar Ettunisi (Tunisian Dialogue), has difficulty breathing and speaking, and has suffered from increasingly frequent asthma attacks since his imprisonment in July. He does not have adequate access to medical treatment. On October 8, 2010, Boukaddous went on hunger strike to protest his poor prison conditions. His family also complains of police harassment and surveillance.

Boukaddous is currently serving a four-year sentence on charges of “forming a criminal association liable to attack persons” for his reporting on public demonstrations against unemployment and corruption in the mining region of Gafsa in 2008. He was initially convicted in January 2010 and his sentence was upheld in a court of appeal in July.

Mouldi Zouabi, a journalist who works for the online magazine Kalima and Radio Kalima, is being accused of violent behavior despite instances of harassment and attacks directed at him. His case was moved to a higher court on October 6, 2010, and he faces up to two years in prison. Zouabi and his lawyers boycotted the most recent court proceedings in protest at what they say are multiple breaches of due process.

PEN American Center is deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating health of Fahem Boukaddous and the charges against Mouldi Zouabi. We believe the journalists are being punished solely for the peaceful expression of their critical views in violation of their right to freedom of expression, as protected by International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which Tunisia is a signatory. We therefore call for Boukaddou’s immediate and unconditional release, and seek assurances that he will receive the urgent medical care that he requires. We also call for charges against Zouabi to be dropped, and for an end to the use of the judiciary system to stifle freedom of expression and punish critical journalists.

Thank you for your urgent attention to this critical matter.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee       

Larry Siems          
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Directeur Général des Prisons
Rue 8003, Appartement -L-
Espace de Tunis Monplaisir
Fax: +216 71 904 472

H.E. Mohamed Salah Tekaya
Tunisian Ambassador to the United States
Embassy of Tunisia in USA
1515 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005
Fax: (202) 862-1858

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