A Tunisian court has handed down a six-month jail term to dissident reporter Taoufik Ben Brik for assaulting a woman, prompting outrage among human rights and press freedom groups who say the charges were fabricated.
AFP - A Tunisian court on Thursday sentenced a journalist and vocal critic of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to six months in prison for assaulting a woman.
Taoufik Ben Brik, 49, had protested his innocence, saying he was the victim of a set-up by the North African country's political police because of his criticism of Ben Ali.
Ben Brik's lawyer Mokhtar Trifi said the court found Ben Brik guilty of voluntary physical harm, damaging the goods of others and offense to public morality.
"I am the victim and not the accused in this affair which has been entirely set up by the political police," Ben Brik told the judge at his trial in Tunis on November 19 before a week's recess for the verdict.
He was arrested on October 29 and charged with physically assaulting a 28-year-old businesswoman.
The French foreign ministry expressed regret at Ben Brik's imprisonment. France, like press and human rights groups, has expressed concern over the case, saying it highlighted the difficulties hampering journalists and human rights defenders in Tunisia.
"We regret this decision and underline our attachment to the freedom of the press in Tunisia, like everywhere around the world," French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told a news briefing in reply to a question.
Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) reacted to the verdict by declaring Ben Brik a political prisoner and urging foreign governments to "stop protecting the regime."
"I hope that foreign chancellories, which have remained timid up to now in their reaction, will now publicly demand the release of Taoufik Ben Brik," said Jean-Francois Julliard, the secretary-general of RSF, speaking in Paris.
Tunisia's Justice Minister Bechir Tekkari responded to previous criticism by saying that "when a journalist commits acts endangering public security and the safety of others, his (profession) of journalist doesn't spare him being pursued by the law."
But according to RSF, with the verdict, "Tunisia once again enters the club of countries that are unpleasant to frequent because they imprison journalists for crimes of opinion."
During the trial, Ben Brik said the political police were after him because of his reporting on Ben Ali's regime.
RSF recalled that Ben Brik suffers from Cushing's syndrome, a disease that threatens the immune system and requires "regular medical follow-up" as well as being put "in a clean and warm place."
Date created : 2009-11-26