International PEN is seriously concerned about the health of Fahem Boukaddous, correspondent for the Al-Badeel news web site and TV journalist, who is serving a four-year prison sentence for his reports on social protests. Since his imprisonment in July, Boukaddous has been suffering from increasingly frequent and debilitating asthma attacks and remains in urgent need of medical treatment not available to him in prison. He has been on hunger strike since October 8. Meanwhile, journalist and Internet writer Mouldi Zaouabi, who works for the online magazine Kalima and Radio Kalima, is reportedly facing up to two years in prison on trumped-up assault charges. Zouabi is a founding member of the Tunisian PEN Center. PEN calls on the Tunisian authorities to release Boukaddous immediately and unconditionally and to ensure that he receives the medical care he requires. It also calls for the charges against Zouabi to be dropped.

Background Information

The following is an alert issued by the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), of which PEN is a part:

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 20 IFEX members, is gravely concerned for the well-being of Tunisian journalist Fahem Boukaddous and urges his immediate release. Boukaddous, whose health has sharply deteriorated in prison, is serving a four-year jail term following his conviction in July for "forming a criminal association liable to attack persons."

"We are very concerned about Boukaddous who needs urgent medical treatment unavailable to him in prison," said Aidan White, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) General Secretary. "Boukaddous has already been denied his freedom as punishment for his independent journalism. Without immediate action his long-term health is under threat."

According to family sources, Boukaddous, correspondent for the satellite channel "Al-Hiwar Ettunisi" (Tunisian Dialogue), has difficulties breathing and speaking and his asthma attacks have increased.On October 8, Boukaddous began a hunger strike to protest his prison conditions.The family also complains of police harassment.Officers monitor their movements and keep an intimidating watch near the family home and business.

Boukaddous was sentenced to four years in January and his conviction was upheld by a court of appeal in July. He was prosecuted following his reporting of public demonstrations against unemployment and corruption in the mining region of Gafsa in 2008.

In a show of solidarity, leaders of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists organized a demonstration on September 18 outside Gafsa Prison where Boukaddous was detained, but the police stopped the gathering and turned away demonstrators.

"We look to European Union institutions to leverage their pressure to save the journalist's life," added White. "But they need to act fast as his life is in danger."

Other IFEX-TMG members join the IFJ in calling on the European Parliament to help secure the release of Boukaddous.The Parliament held a hearing on the situation of human rights in Tunisia during its January session in Strasbourg.

"The authorities continue to use the courts as a means of repression against journalists, as the case of journalist Mouldi Zouabi demonstrated this week," said IFEX-TMG Chair Rohan Jayasekera, Associate Editor of Index on Censorship.

Zouabi, a journalist with independent Radio Kalima has been administratively and judicially harassed since July, after he was physically attacked in April. Police decided not to charge the attacker. Instead, they are accusing Zouabi of violent behavior and actual bodily harm.The case was referred to a higher court on October 6, and he now faces up to two years in jail.The journalist and his lawyers boycotted the most recent audience in protest at what they say are multiple breaches of due process.

"This is more evidence of the way that a politicised judiciary is being used to silence free speech by denying yet another honest Tunisian journalist a fair trial. I'm positive that a truly independent court system would free Zouabi in a heartbeat," added Jayasekera.

Write A Letter

  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of journalist Fahem Boukaddous on humanitarian grounds and in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights; 
  • Seeking assurances that Boukaddous will receive the medical care he urgently requires;
  • Calling for the charges against the journalist Mouldi Zouabi to be dropped;
  • Urging the Tunisian authorities to put an end to the use of the judiciary to stifle free expression and punish critical journalists.

Send Your Letter To

President
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
President
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
Tunisia
Fax: +216 71 568 106
Email: mju@ministeres.tn

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

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Tunisia in your country if possible.

Please contact PEN if sending appeals after December 15, 2010: ftw [at] pen.org