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JOURNALIST GIVEN ONE YEAR JAIL SENTENCE IN "UNFAIR TRIAL"

Five months after human rights lawyer Mohamed Abbou's early release from jail, a Tunisian journalist has been sentenced to one year in prison following an unfair trial, say the Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other IFEX members.

On 4 December, Slim Boukhdhir, a freelance journalist known for his outspoken views on President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his regime, was jailed for a year for "insulting behaviour" towards an official and violating public decency. He also was fined for refusing to produce his identity papers.

Boukhdhir, who often writes for the London-based, pan-Arab newspaper "Al Quds Al Arabi" and the website of the satellite TV station Al-Arabiya, was arrested in Sfax on 26 November.

"The hope of an improvement in press freedom that followed the release of human rights lawyer Mohammed Abbou in July has evaporated," says Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

Boukhdhir's lawyers have denounced the verdict as a sham and say they believe that his conviction is in retaliation for his coverage of human rights violations under Ben Ali. They are planning to appeal the "unfair and politically motivated" court decision - the judge denied Boukhdhir's right to challenge the allegations made by two witnesses handpicked by the police.

It is not the first time Boukhdhir has been targeted; he has staged several hunger strikes in recent years to protest government harassment and the authorities' refusal to grant him a passport. In May, shortly after writing an online story critical of the first lady's brother, he was assaulted by what he believed were plainclothes police as he left an Internet café in Tunis.

Neziha Rejiba of OLPEC and editor of the locally blocked online magazine "Kalima", told CPJ that "critics and dissidents are treated as criminals since President Ben Ali seized power."

Visit these links:
- OLPEC: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/88158/
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/yqyoz7
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24637
- Other IFEX members' alerts on the IFEX-TMG website: http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg/index.html
- "Kalima": http://www.kalimatunisie.com/
(11 December 2007)

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