MAC: Mines and Communities

Tunisia: Journalist condemned as "criminal" for reporting mine demonstration

Published by MAC on 2008-11-17

Regrettably, MAC has to date posted only article on Tunisia. This is not from lack of concern over repression of those protesting at working and living conditions in the Gafsa phosphates belt. It's because independent testimony from the region is rare.

In July this year, we reported protests at state land grabbing. See:

Now, a television reporter has been charged, in his absence, for trying to report on his "illegal" contacts with the protestors.

Independent TV reporter wanted by police for coverage of unrest in mining region

Reporters Without Borders

13th November 2008

Reporters Without Borders calls for the withdrawal of the charges brought against TV reporter Fahem Boukadous because of his coverage of this year's protests in the Gafsa mining region, 350 km south of Tunis, for the independent Tunisian TV station Al-Hiwar Attounsi and because he put foreign news media in contact with labour leaders in Gafsa.

Boukadous, who went into hiding on 5 July, is wanted by the authorities on charges of "belonging to a criminal association" and "spreading reports liable to disrupt public order."

Radhia Nasraoui, a lawyer who heads the Association for Combating Torture in Tunisia (ALTT), told a Reporters Without Borders delegation in Tunis in 11 November: "The indictment accuses Boukadous of establishing contacts with the demonstrators for his reporting. Whenever his name is mentioned, it is in connection with his work as a journalist."

Reporters Without Borders said: "The Tunisian authorities cannot keep reiterating their commitment to press freedom at every major national event if a journalist is forced to go into hiding. The scant media coverage of such an important development as the unrest in Gafsa shows how little leeway the Tunisia media enjoy when covering national political news."

The press freedom organisation added: "Boukadous was in the right place at the right time to cover this unrest. As a result of being hounded by the authorities, he had to abandon his work in order to avoid certain arrest. We call for the charges to be dropped so that he can be reunited with his family and go back to work as a reporter."

Boukadous, 38, became an Al-Hiwar Attounsi correspondent in 2006. He was the first TV reporter to cover the demonstrations in Gafsa, a phosphate mining region with higher than average unemployment. He filmed the marches, interviewed the population and covered the dozens of arbitrary arrests of participants, many of who are still in pre-trial detention.

The footage shot by Boukadous was used by many leading pan-Arab news media and was posted on video-sharing websites such as YouTube and Dailymotion, which are both censored in Tunisia. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

There have been major protests and demonstrations by workers in the Gafsa region since 5 January. The authorities have arrested dozens of demonstrators and labour leaders on the streets and in their homes. The police still control access to the region and restrict visits by the media.

Created in 2002, Al-Hiwar Attounsi stands out from the rest of the Tunisian media. Based in Italy, it has limited resources and broadcasts just one hour a day to Tunisia by Hotbird satellite with help from an Italian TV station. Its frequency and its broadcast times are published each week in the opposition press in Tunisia. Its slogan is "The free word is the essence of a free state" and its declared mission is to "show the little-known facets."

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