- A Tunisian court has sentenced a national journalist in absentia to 14 months in prison for articles he wrote four years ago and have been published on several websites. The judge found it proven that the journalist "belonged to an opposition group," which was reason enough for the jail sentence.
Journalist Mohamed Fourati on 9 March received a 14-month prison sentence imposed in absentia from an appeal court in Gafsa - located 400 kilometres south of Tunis - for two articles he wrote in 2002. One, published on the 'Aqlma online news' website, was said to prove he belonged to an opposition group. The other was about fund-raising for the family of a political prisoner.
Mr Fourati was accused in 2002 of links with a group that helped the families of political prisoners after he wrote an article about fund-raising for the family of detainee Abdelhamid Louhichi for 'Aqlma online', a website specialising in the Maghreb.
Gafsa appeal court judges dismissed the charges twice but determined prosecutors appealed against their rulings and managed to have Mr Fourati retried and convicted by a different appeal court on 9 March.
Mr Fourati currently lives in Qatar, where he works for the daily 'Al-Sharq' newspaper. He did not go back for the trial and will not have to serve the sentence unless he returns to Tunisia. The Tunisian authorities are refusing to let his wife leave the country to join him in Qatar.
He used to be the Tunis correspondent of the London-based 'Quds Press International' news agency, and helped edit 'Al-Mawqif', the newspaper of the Progressive Democratic Party. He is also a member of a local press freedom watchdog and the Union of Tunisian Journalists (SJT), neither of which is recognised by the government.
The news of Mr Fourati's in absentia prison sentence today caused protests by the Paris-based press freedom watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF). "The way the authorities and prosecutors have gone after Fourati shows their determination to silence dissident journalists and writers," an RSF statement said.
"The Tunisian government does not permit any opposition, whether in the traditional press or on the Internet. Cyber-dissident Mohammed Abbou, who has been imprisoned since March 2005 for criticising the President online, is a case in point," RSF added.
Mr Abbou has been imprisoned since March 2005 for an article published in August 2004 on the 'Tunisnews' website in which he compared the torture of political prisoners in Tunisia with the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by US soldiers.
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