Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Judicial harassment stifles free expression

13 October 2010

Judicial harassment stifles free expression


IFJ
An ailing Tunisian journalist is languishing in jail on trumped up charges, while another faces two years in jail for being the target of a physical attack. This is just some of the evidence of how the authorities use the courts to crush dissent, says the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG). Meanwhile, judges who dare to criticise the authorities are being uprooted from their jobs or are even having their salaries withheld, adds IFEX-TMG, which has stepped up its campaign to promote judicial independence.

Fahem Boukaddous, correspondent for the satellite channel "Al-Hiwar Ettunisi", is serving a four-year jail term for "forming a criminal association liable to attack persons." His crime was to report on protests against unemployment and corruption in the mining industry in Gafsa in 2008.

According to family sources, Boukaddous has difficulties breathing and speaking and his asthma attacks have increased. On 8 October, Boukaddous began a hunger strike to protest his prison conditions.

In a separate case, the authorities continue to harass Mouldi Zouabi, a journalist with the independent station Radio Kalima. He was attacked in April, but police decided not to charge the attacker. Instead, they are accusing Zouabi of violent behaviour and bodily harm. The case was referred to a higher court on 6 October, and he now faces up to two years in jail.

"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," said IFEX-TMG chair Rohan Jayasekera.

The problem is confounded by the various forms of harassment of judges who criticise the authorities or demand that they work without government interference.

Since 2005, when IFEX-TMG started its fact-finding missions to Tunisia, the group of 20 IFEX members found that judges openly committed to judicial independence have been arbitrarily transferred from Tunis to remote locations, hundreds of kilometres away from their families.

Just this August, for instance, the secretary general of the legitimate Association of Tunisian Judges (AMT), Kalthoum Kennou, was moved from Kairouan, in the centre of the country, to the southern city of Tozeur.

Other targeted colleagues have seen their assignments outside the capital of Tunisia extended, have had their salaries withheld, or have been denied promotions.

IFEX-TMG is currently appealing to the International Association of Judges (IAJ), which is meeting next month in Senegal.

Find out what happens next on IFEX-TMG's recently launched Facebook page, where you can also join the call for Boukaddous's release as well as share the International Federation of Journalists's (IFJ's) poster to "set Boukaddous free".

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