- Tunisian journalist Abdallah Zouari has been sentenced to four months in prison for "defamation" after he had complained of being denied access to an Internet café. Mr Zouari has been regularly harassed by Tunisian authorities since 1990.
On 18 July, journalist Abdallah Zouari, who has already spent 11 years in prison, was sentenced to four months' imprisonment for "defamation" by a court in Zarzis in south-eastern Tunisia, where he has been officially confined to.
The sentence follows an incident in which Mr Zouari complained about being barred from using a cybercafé. The Paris-based press freedom defenders group Reporters sans Frontičres (RSF) has strongly protested the "trumped-up" sentence and demanded its immediate cancellation.
- Zouari has been constantly harassed and spied on for months, said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard in a statement released today. "The authorities have run out of things to accuse him of and have now come up with this excessive punishment on a ridiculous and bogus charge," Mr Ménard added.
After being forbidden to go online at a cybercafé in Zarzis on 19 April, Mr Zouari said he would call his lawyer to complain. The cybercafé's manager then filed a complaint against him for "defamation". He was tried on 11 July.
Mr Zouari was only released from prison on 6 June 2002, after serving 11 years for "belonging to an illegal organisation". Since then, he has been officially confined to Zarzis, even though some of his family members live in Tunis, the capital, located over 500 kilometres to the north.
On 23 August 2002, the journalist - who worked for 'Al Fajr' an unofficial voice of the Islamist An Nahda movement - further was sentenced to eight months in prison by a Zarzis court for refusing to obey the restriction order by living in Tunis.
Also the editor of 'Al Fajr', Hamadi Jebali, has been imprisoned since 1991. After completing a one-year sentence for an article criticising the system of military courts, he was sentenced by the Tunis military court to 16 years imprisonment for "aggressive intention to change the nature of the state" and "belonging to an illegal organisation".
According to RSF's 2002 annual report, the situation of the press in Tunisia is one of the worst in the world. Opponents of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2001 still were "unable to express themselves within the country," where "pressure on opponents is intensifying."
The Tunisian authorities had "not hesitated, for example, to turn on their families ... to cut Tunisians off from the world, control over all means of communication has been reinforced," said. Two journalists and a cyber-dissident are presently behind bars in Tunisia. There have been several reports of torture of these political prisoners.
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