27 July 2011

Joint action

Targeting of journalists and demonstrators alarming, says IFEX-TMG

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(IFEX-TMG) - 27 July 2011 - The International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 21 IFEX members, is urging action to prevent any repeat of recent violent crackdowns on demonstrators and journalists in the run up to scheduled constitutional elections in October.

The IFEX-TMG's concerns deepened after a statement by Interim Prime Minister Béji Caïd Essebsi in which he accused journalists of stirring up trouble.

Security forces allegedly assaulted demonstrators protesting government policies on 15 July, and journalists from a variety of media corporations covering the incidents were also allegedly targeted. Blaming journalists for violence and protests is a dangerous accusation and is a dark reminder of the tactics used by the former regime to penalise the independent media.

The assault, as well as the subsequent statement by the Prime Minister, contrast greatly with the many promises the Prime Minister and the interim government have made to ensure free expression in the run up to the constitutional elections, currently scheduled for 23 October.

"When IFEX-TMG members met Prime Minister Essebsi in April, he stated his conviction that a free press is key to a successful democratic transition in Tunisia. Yet a free press cannot be achieved, nor can a successful democratic transition, when journalists are attacked with impunity," said Virginie Jouan, representing the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

"As we did in April, the IFEX-TMG today urges the government to guarantee the safety and security of all media professionals. The perpetrators of the latest attacks against journalists must be brought to justice," she added.

According to journalist Fahem Boukadous, the attacks this month - as well as in May when journalists were assaulted on Avenue Habib Bourguiba - point to what he termed a "counterrevolution and an attempt by the old guard to return to the media and thereby do away with the gains of the revolution." Boukadous, imprisoned under the former regime until the revolution, is co-founder of the Centre de Tunisie pour la libèrté de la presse, which monitors attacks on the press.

Last month, the IFEX-TMG published its report "The Scars of Oppression Run Deep: Assessing the Critical Requirements for Freedom of Expression in Tunisia's Democratic Transition", which asserted the need for a free and independent media as well as a strong and democratic civil society to ensure a smooth and successful transition towards democracy. The report was the culmination of the IFEX-TMG's eighth mission to Tunisia, led by WAN-IFRA, and its first formal mission after the fall of deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. (See: http://ifex.org/tunisia/2011/06/21/scarsofoppressionrundeepifextmg_eng.pdf )

"Tunisians have been consciously scrutinising the interim government's policies as the date of the constitutional elections approaches. The media have a vital role to play in ensuring that the revolution bears fruit. We urge the government to make good on its words, and respect the justified demands of the Tunisian people for freedom, equality and dignity," said IFEX-TMG Chair Rohan Jayasekera of Index on Censorship.

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