Reprieve for Association of Tunisian Journalists After IFJ Expulsion Threat Sparks Reform

The World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists, the largest representative body of journalists’ groups world-wide, has voted to lift a threat to expel its member organisation in Tunisia after it pledged to improve its record on defence of press freedom and journalists’ rights.

But the Association of Tunisian Journalists (AJT) will remain suspended for the time being as IFJ leaders await the outcome of promised changes in the coming months.

The Executive Committee of the IFJ voted in March to expel the AJT after it presented Tunisian President Zen El Abidine Ben Ali with a press freedom award last year, causing consternation throughout the global press freedom community, which has long criticized the government’s poor record of free expression.

The decision to expel was to be confirmed by the IFJ World Congress, meeting in Athens last week. But after an appeal and an investigation by a special commission elected by the Congress it was decided to give the AJT further time to carry through promised reforms that would break links with the government.

“In the few weeks since the decision to expel was made, the IFJ has monitored closely the response of our Tunisian colleagues and there has already been a marked change in attitude and approach,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary after the decision. “The Congress heard an appeal from the AJT and is ready to give the Association time to make good on its promises to bring about lasting change.”

The IFJ will send a mission of senior officers to Tunisia at the beginning of October to coincide with a pivotal conference of the AJT when a package of reforms is due to be discussed. The issue will discussed again by the newly-elected Executive Committee of the IFJ a few days after the Tunisian conference.

The Congress delegates, from 90 countries, heard from a senior AJT officer, Sofiene Ben Hamida that the Association recognized the problems that had led to the threat of expulsion. He said that the Association wanted to remain within the world community of journalists and was making efforts to improve its links with the IFJ and to reinforce its independence.

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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries