The International Federation of
Journalists (IFJ) today protested to the Tunisian government over the action of
police who laid siege to the offices of Tunisian Syndicate of Journalists
and assaulted the union's President after he tried to enter the building.
"This is heavy-handed and violent
interference in journalism," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "It is
unacceptable and demonstrates the intolerance of a regime which puts power
politics before democracy."
According to reports from the
Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens (SNJT) the union President Neji Beghori
was today barred from entering the offices, assaulted and dragged away by police. The
offices were surrounded by more than 100 policemen after a Tunisian Court ordered the officers of
the union to hand over the keys to the building.
The SNTJ has been split following an
internal dispute which has focused on the union leadership's uncompromising
demands for independence and their unwillingness to publicly endorse President
Ben Ali in national elections next month. A rival faction organised an
extraordinary congress last month and elected new leaders, the majority of them
strong supporters of the ruling RDC party. They also sent a message of support
to the President.
This congress was widely condemned
by national and international human rights groups as politically motivated.
SNTJ leaders, who had failed to win
a court order against the rival congress planned their own meeting to be held
this week, but the IFJ warns that such a meeting will be compromised if there
is a threat of official violence. "We
are increasingly concerned about this threatening atmosphere and we call on the
authorities to offer guarantees that the meeting will be allowed to proceed,"
"The IFJ has consistently appealed
for peaceful and democratic solutions to the problems of Tunisian journalism,"
said White. "Normally, court orders are enforced in a non-violent manner, but
the authorities are determined to make a show of their authority and in the
process to teach independent journalists a lesson."
The IFJ says that it will support
fresh efforts to end the damaging rift that has divided journalists. The IFJ
Executive Committee will meet in November to decide how to further support
colleagues in Tunisia.
"Political interference in the heat
of a Presidential election is not uncommon," said White, "but in Tunisia the
impact can be damaging and long term. We need all journalists to focus on professional
solidarity not party preference."
For more information contact the IFJ
at +32 2 235 2207
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists
in 123 countries worldwide