Reporters Without Borders condemns the government's constant harassment of freelance journalist Sihem Bensedrine, who was yesterday prevented by plain-clothes police from boarding a flight to Vienna from Tunis-Carthage international airport.
“This is the second time this year that Bensedrine has been subjected to arbitrary police controls,” Reporters Without Borders said. “There seems to be no limit to the government's determination to hound her. Her movements within Tunisia are under close surveillance, her phone calls are tapped, and the website of her newspaper Kalima has been censored in Tunisia since its launch.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The space for civil liberties is not growing in Tunisia, regardless of what French President Nicolas Sarkozy said when he last visited the country. Turning a blind eye to abuses against human rights and press freedom activists in Tunisia will only encourage the authorities to go further down this road.”
Bensedrine was stopped by men in civilian dress as she was about to go through the immigration check at Tunis-Carthage airport yesterday morning. They proceeded to examine her laptop very carefully and then asked her to accompany them to her office. Bensedrine refused.
“They would not identify themselves,” she told Reporters Without Borders. “The last time policemen asked me to go with them to their office, they took advantage of my being out of sight in order to beat me. I no longer trust them.” She was not allowed to board her flight. The plain-clothes officers confiscated her boarding card and pushed her towards the airport exit.
Bensedrine has been subjected to repeated harassment because of her commitment to free expression, and she has never received a permit for Kalima
, the newspaper she launched in 1999. Originally published in a home-made, hard-copy format that was distributed clandestinely, it is now an online multimedia platform fed by content from abroad.
In her latest editorial, she criticised the government's decision to allow construction in the Carthage Sidi Bou Saïd archeological area. “Not even this UNESCO World Heritage site has escaped the greed of the wheeler-dealers close to the government, which has squandered protected public property,” she wrote. “Representative institutions would have reacted in other countries where the rule of law prevails (...) But the law, state and institutions are all one person in Tunisia, Ben Ali! This crime could not have been committed without his consent.”
Bensedrine and her husband, Omar Mestiri, were detained for six hours by customs officials at La Goulette port in Tunis last March. They were taken to a police station and roughed up. Bensedrine filed a complaint, accusing the police of “violence” and “abduction” but no investigation was ever carried out. The car they imported from abroad is still under customs seals for unclear reasons.