Reporters Without Borders welcomed the conditional release today of Tunisian cyber-dissident Zouhair Yahyaoui after more than 18 months in prison. He had criticised the regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on the Internet.
"His release cannot make us forget how he was ill-treated in prison, where he sent for simply stating his opinion," said the press freedom organisation's secretary-general, Robert Ménard. "The Tunisian regime has made a gesture by releasing him, but is still very far from allowing free expression in the country, especially online. We hope journalists Hamadi Jebali and Abdallah Zouari will also be released from jail soon."
An official source said Yahyaoui, founder and editor of the news website TUNeZINE, had qualified for conditional release, having served half his sentence. He was jailed on 4 June 2002 and sentenced on 10 July to two years in prison for supposedly spreading false news.
His French fiancée, Sophie Piekarec, told Reporters Without Borders he had lost a lot of weight in detention and had developed serious dental problems. But she said he retained his "iron spirit."
Yahyaoui founded TUNeZINE in July 2001 to disseminate news about pro-democracy activities in Tunisia. He posted on the site articles and cartoons mocking President Ben Ali, along opposition statements. He was the first to publish a letter to the president denouncing the country's court system from Judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui, his uncle.
In June 2003, he was the first winner of the new Reporters Without Borders - Globenet Cyber-Freedom Prize.
The text of this release is available in English, Spanish and French on the Reporters Without Borders website at www.rsf.org
Over 13 years ago, Reporters without Borders created its "Sponsorship Programme" and called upon the international media to select and support an imprisoned journalist. One hundred and twenty news staffs around the globe are thus sponsoring colleagues by regularly petitioning authorities for their release and by publicising their situations so that their cases will not be forgotten. Currently, Zouhair Yahyaoui is sponsored by Avaldoci, Club de la presse Marseille, Club de la presse du Périgord , El periodico de Catalunya, El Triangle, Festival du FIGRA, Fraternitaire, Le Nouvelliste, liberation.fr, Maison de la presse de Mons, Maison de la presse de Charleroi, Vlan, REE, Radio Populare, www.categorynet.com, Le Nouvel observateur.