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Tunisia: Dissenting journalist Taoufik Ben Brik should be freed, not jailed

The Tunisian authorities should immediately release a well known government critic, journalist Taoufik Ben Brik, Amnesty International said today. The organisation is calling for trumped-up charges that could lead to his being imprisoned for five years to be dropped.

On 19 November Taoufik Ben Brik was put on trial on charges of committing violence, damaging property, harming public morality and defamation. His case was heard before the Court of First Instance in Tunis. He has denied the charges and says they have been manufactured and brought against him by the Tunisian authorities because of his criticism of the government. The court is due to deliver its verdict on Thursday (26 November).

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:

“Taoufik Ben Brik is being prosecuted on politically-motivated charges and he has not received a fair trial.

“He is a prisoner of conscience. He must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

During his trial, the court failed to allow his defence lawyers an opportunity to fully present their case or cross-examine prosecution witnesses, and it appears to have accepted as evidence a statement which the authorities allege was freely given by Taoufik Ben Brik in pre-trial detention but which he says is false and bears a forgery of his signature.

The court hearing last week took place amid oppressive security conditions. There was a heavy security presence both inside and around the court, and journalists and others were prevented from attending the proceedings. Only three members of Taoufik Ben Brik’s family were permitted to attend. Taoufik Ben Brik, who suffers from diabetes and a rare hormonal disorder called Cushing's Syndrome, for which he needs regular medication, appeared physically weak and was unable to stand throughout the trial.

Malcolm Smart added:

“Taoufik Ben Brik’s appears to have been prosecuted on account of his criticism of the government and opposition to the recent re-election - for a fifth term of office - of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

“It follows a pattern in which those who exercise their right to free speech to criticise the government or allege corruption are targeted for expressing dissent, in gross breach of Tunisia’s obligations under international law.”

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