- Media and freedom of expression groups have criticised the Tunisian government of overstepping its mandate and meddling in the media affairs of the country.
In a petition send today the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 18 member organisations of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) network, wrote to the Tunisian president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, urging him to end his government's interference in the work of the national journalists' union, the SNJT.
The coalition expressed its serious concern at the Tunisian government's efforts to undermine the independence of the SNJT and interfere in its work, saying since the publication of a SNJT report criticising the lack of press freedom in Tunisia on 4 May, a government-backed campaign was launched to remove the leadership of the new union and produce a press freedom report that is more supportive of the regime.
"Pro-government journalists circulated a petition calling for the replacement of the union's leadership and journalists have reportedly been threatened with dismissal should they refuse to sign," the coalition alledged in the letter, even saying since then and under pressure, three board members of the union resigned, although their resignations have been rejected by the board.
The letter further said the SNJT president, Neji Bghouri, has been under attack since the day he released the report - facing both physical and verbal aggression that day, with continued verbal assaults until now.
"We are seriously concerned that the government is attempting to undermine the solidarity of journalists and to engineer the political compliance of the SNJT as part of its campaign to undermine freedom of expression in Tunisia," said the letter.
It continued by reminding the president that the state must not interfere in the operations of the SNJT, which should be allowed to operate as an independent journalists' union, free from political interference and free to report independently.
"We note that the government used similar tactics to dissolve the executive board of the Association of Tunisian Judges (TAM), and tried but failed to do so with the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH). We respectfully call on you to ensure that the government immediately stops interfering in the affairs of the SNJT and permits it to report and manage its affairs free from state influence," it concluded.
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