- Tunisian internet journalist Zouhair Yahyaoui today completed his first year in prison. The founder of the webzine 'TUNeZINE' was arrested and tortured for spreading opposition documents on internet. The campaign to demand his release now is strengthened.
The Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontičres (RSF) today called for the release of jailed cyber-dissident Zouhair Yahyaoui. The journalist marked the first anniversary of his arrest in an Internet café on 4 June 2003. Founder of the website "TUNeZINE", Yahyaoui is serving a two-year prison sentence. He recently began another hunger strike.
- We call on President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to release Zouhair Yahyaoui immediately and unconditionally, RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said in a statement today. "This young man has staged three hunger strikes since the start of the year and could suffer serious after-effects if he is not released soon."
RSF also called for the release of journalist Hamadi Jebali, who has been imprisoned since 1991.
When Mr Yahyaoui received a visit from his family in Borj el Amri prison (30 km from Tunis) on 22 May, he had to cut short the conversation because he was very weak.
- The publicity surrounding his arrest and the campaigns for his release both in Tunisia and abroad have fuelled official resentment and vindictiveness, according to his family, which says he is the victim of "discriminatory treatment."
Prison guards soil his food, he is prevented from reading books, his correspondence is stolen, he is denied his daily exercise and is threatened by his guards. Mr Yahyaoui has told his family several times he cannot stand the conditions of his detention. He has staged three hungers strikes so far this year to protest against his "inhumane treatment."
Following his arrest by plainclothes police officers in an Internet cafe on 4 June 2002, Mr Yahyaoui was subjected to interrogation that included three sessions of "suspension", a form of torture in which the victim is suspended by the arms with his feet barely touching the ground. On 10 July, the Tunis Appeals Court sentenced him to two years' imprisonment for "spreading false news".
As a writer, Mr Yahyaoui used the pseudonym "Ettounsi," which means "The Tunisian" in Arabic. He launched the "TUNeZINE" website in July 2001 to distribute opposition documents online and thereby provide information about the fight for democracy and freedoms in Tunisia. He was one of the first people to distribute a letter to the President by Judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui in which he criticised the judicial system.
Mr Jebali, on the other hand, was editor of 'Al Fajr', the mouthpiece of the Islamic movement An Nahda. Jailed in 1991, he initially served a one-year sentence for an article criticising the military court system.
Then, in 1992, the Tunis Military Court sentenced him to 16 years' imprisonment for "aggressive intention to change the nature of the state" and "belonging to an illegal organisation". He was transferred from Bizerte prison to Sfax prison in mid-March 2003.
Tunisia has one of the most restrictive press freedom practices in Africa and in the Arab world, with a close to total government control over information flows. This has not stopped the European Union from including Tunisia in its Euro-Mediterranean cooperation, virtually letting Tunisia entering the EU's free market.
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