The International Federation of Journalists today pledged to campaign vigorously for justice on behalf of two victimised journalists on hunger strike in Tunisia, but has called on the journalists to end their protests.
“The hunger strikes being carried out by both Slim Boukhdir and Chahrazed Akacha show the level of desperation of several Tunisian journalists whose fundamental rights are being ignored,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.
He said that the authorities were “cynically avoiding their responsibility” in these cases and the protests should end with humane and just solutions to the issues which had driven the journalists to take desperate measures.
“The time has come for the authorities to take responsibility and for our colleagues to be able to work freely,” he said, noting that today, the 34th day of the hunger strike by Boukhdir, who has lost around 15 kg and whose health is failing. “Journalists and unionists around the world are deeply concerned by this unfolding tragedy.”
Boukhdir is asking for the return of his passport and his job at the daily pro-governmental newspaper, Al-Chourouk, where he was progressively pushed out. The journalist has confirmed being attacked on numerous occasions by several policemen in front of the Al-Chourouk offices whilst he was carrying out a symbolic protest on 3 May. He was taken to hospital where he was denied first-aid assistance.
Chahrazed Akacha, a young journalist also working for Al-Chourouk refused to publish an article for the paper under her name in November last year. On 19 April, she began a hunger strike in protest over ongoing pressures following her initial refusal which finally led to her dismissal.
The IFJ recalled that Mohammed Abbou, an incarcerated lawyer who had been involved in a number of media cases, has been on hunger strike since 11 March this year in protest over poor conditions.
“Hunger strikes are an act of desperation, which puts the lives of journalists into danger and shouldn’t replace collective action,” said White.
The IFJ highlighted the “grotesque reality” of press freedom in Tunisia where journalists are driven to acts of desperation while the government of President Ben Ali issues pious statements of commitment to press rights. On May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day, the President told the heads of the ‘Association des journalistes tunisiens’ and the Association des directeurs de journaux tunisiens (http://www.infotunisie.com/2006/05/030506-1.html), that he considered “free expression and a free press as fundamental rights of both the individual and the community”, recalling, “the nobility of the media’s mission and its important social role.”
The Tunisian head of state stated his desire for “a country where press freedom is strengthened on a daily basis, where free expression is pushed forward to its maximum level and where the journalist can fulfill his/her primary mission through a free, democratic and objective press which serves his/her country and the will of the people for a better future.”
“It’s time for an end to complacent declarations and for more action to deliver on promises of freedom and justice for journalists,” said White. “Above all, we must do everything we can to avoid further tragedy and suffering among journalists.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries