The International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest journalists’ group, has decided to suspend and provisionally expel from membership the Tunisian Journalists’ Association (AJT) after recording its “shock and bewilderment” over the presentation of a press freedom award to Tunisian leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, whose government has been accused by press freedom groups and human rights bodies of putting pressure on independent media and violating the rights of journalists.
The decision, which was taken by the IFJ Executive Committee meeting in Berlin at the weekend, is subject to confirmation by the IFJ World Congress which meets in Athens at the end of May. The Tunisian Association has been invited to lodge an appeal against the decision at the Congress.
The IFJ Executive Committee action follows complaints over the failure of the AJT to adequately defend the rights of journalists in Tunisia, which have come under pressure during the 15-year rule of President Ben Ali, but was sparked by concern over the decision to award the Association’s “Plume d’Or” for press freedom to the president at a ceremony late last year.
The IFJ Executive Committee meeting in December called for an explanation and wrote to the Association asking for an explanation over the “lack of commitment of the AJT in confronting press freedom problems” and expressed “shock and bewilderment” over the presentation of the prize to Ben Ali.
A senior representative of the AJT addressed the IFJ Executive Committee in Berlin and a letter was received from the Association’s president Mohamed Ben Salah.
However, the IFJ Executive Committee decided, without dissent, that under its Constitution the Association had “acted in a manner contrary to the principles or objectives of the Federation and in a manner likely to damage the interests of the Federation.”
In taking the decision, the IFJ Executive Committee also noted that independent journalists were making serious efforts to bring about change within the Association. The meeting wanted to further encourage this process of change, holding out the possibility of readmission to the IFJ at an early stage “when conditions permit.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries