July 20, 2010

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

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

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting the freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our deepest concern about the deteriorating health of imprisoned journalist Fahem Boukaddous.

According to our information, Fahem Boukaddous, a correspondent for the Al-Badeel news web site and a TV journalist, is suffering from acute respiratory problems. His four-year prison term, based on charges stemming from his coverage of demonstrations in Gafsa in 2008, was upheld on appeal on July 6, 2010. Boukaddous was unable to attend the appeal hearing because he was hospitalized for his condition, and his lawyers were reportedly denied the right to present any defense. He was jailed on July 15, the day after he was discharged from the hospital, without his much-needed medication, and remains in urgent need of medical treatment. We understand that Gafsa Prison, where he is being held, is dirty, very hot in summer, and many of the prisoners smoke, contributing to his deteriorating health.

Boukaddous went into hiding in July 2008 after discovering that he was wanted by the Tunisian authorities. He was sentenced to six years in prison in December 2008. In November 2009, Boukaddous emerged to challenge the sentence on the basis that he had been tried in absentia. A court overturned the previous ruling, but said that Boukaddous would again be tried on the same charges. In January of this year, the journalist was found guilty of “belonging to a criminal association” and “harming public order,” and sentenced to four years in prison.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that the imprisonment of Fahem Boukaddous is part of a systemic campaign by the Tunisian authorities to stifle free expression and punish critical journalists. We therefore request unequivocal assurances from Tunisian authorities that the journalist will receive the medical attention he requires as a matter of urgency, and we call for his immediate and unconditional release on humanitarian grounds and in accordance with 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Tunisia is a signatory.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                       
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee                 

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Mr. Ghazi Jomaa
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of Tunisia to the United Nations
31 Beekman Place
New York, NY 10022
Fax: (212) 751-0569

Mrs. Dalenda Belhadj Jomaa
Directeur général des prisons
Rue 8003, Appartement –L-
Espace de Tunis Monplaisir
Fax: +216 71 904 472

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