Journalist Taoufik Ben Brik released from prison
Journalist Taoufik Ben Brik has been released from prison in Tunisia, his wife says. Brik, a harsh critic of the Tunisian government, served a six-month jail term for assault following a trial criticised by some as politically motivated.
AFP - Dissident Tunisian journalist Taoufik Ben Brik was freed Tuesday after six months in jail for assault following a trial which he charged was politically motivated, he and his wife Azza Zarad said.
Ben Brik, known for his satirical criticism in the French press of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, said that he planned to be in Paris by Monday "to celebrate World Press Freedom Day with my friends."
"I will see all my friends, all who supported me, my lawyer William Bourdon and my
publishers," Ben Brik told AFP.
"He was released at 6:00 am (0500 GMT) after serving the whole of his sentence, not a single day less," Zarad said, adding that her husband had asked her to announce his release.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner reacted "with relief" to Ben Brik's release while stressing that freedom of expression was key for France.
"I share the joy of his family and friends and am pleased with the outcome of a case which we followed closely over the last months," he said in a statement.
Kouchner said he had discussed the case with his Tunisian counterpart Kamel Morjane during a visit to Tunis earlier this month.
The Tunisian government meanwhile insisted that Ben Brik's condemnation had not been linked to an issue of freedom of expression.
"Excellent relations between Tunisia and France allow for talks on all kinds of issues concerning the two countries, without any exclusions," Morjane told AFP following Kouchner's reaction.
But he added: "Mr Kouchner needs to be reminded however that the offences for which Mr Ben Brik was sentenced to prison had nothing to do with freedom of expression."
"Mr Ben Brik was found guilty of assault, wilful damage to property and immorality, after attacking a woman in front of witnesses," he said.
The 50-year-old journalist arrived in Tunis from Siliana prison to the northwest, where he had been transferred after being sentenced on November 26, 2009 to six months in prison for the assault of a young businesswoman.
Ben Brik maintained he had been framed by police for his political reporting and several human rights organisations condemned his trial as political and intended to silence him.
"It was a dirty trick, everybody knows that," said Ben Brik.
Asked about risks he faces in Paris, where he is being investigated because of another complaint of violence by a Tunisian woman, Ben Brik said it was "a plot of the same kind".
In France, lawyer Bourdon said that he had spoken to Ben Brik and that "he seems more combative than ever and in good health."
"I think you need to be a poet like him to manage -- when he was totally innocent -- to do six months in prison for nothing, at the whim of the authorities," Bourdon added.
Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF -- Reporters Without Borders) expressed relief at Ben Brik's release, but deplored the sentence against him.
"We recall that these six months of detention were six months too many, when it is evident that Taoufik has been the victim of lies cobbled together, thus paying the price of freedom of thought," RSF Secretary-General Jean-Francois Julliard said in a statement.