Members of the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 18 member organisations of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) network, are appalled at the treatment of human rights activists Sihem Bensedrine and Omar Mestiri upon their arrival in Tunisia on 3 March 2008.
Bensedrine is the Secretary General of the Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC), IFEX’s member in Tunisia, and an IFEX-TMG partner. Bensedrine is also spokesperson of the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT). Mestiri is the managing editor of “Kalima” online newspaper.
According to OLPEC’s vice-president Naziha Rjiba, the two activists arrived from Europe in the port of La Goulette. Upon arrival, they were held by customs for six hours, during which time Bensedrine was violently attacked, leaving bruises on her body. The customs agents confiscated cell phones, documents and computer hard discs from both Bensedrine and Mestiri – copying files and passwords from their laptops.
This assault follows a recent attack on Samia Abbou and Fatma Ksila, two women activists who were assaulted by police in Sousse on 18 February.
“I find it hard to believe that just days before International Women’s Day, the government of Tunisia would sanction such a vicious attack on a woman.” says IFEX-TMG Chair Rohan Jayasekera, of Index on Censorship. “Yet, it comes on the heels of recent attacks on two other women activists, not to mention numerous other attacks on women rights defenders, including Sihem.”
Bensedrine has previously been assaulted on numerous occasions, including while in prison in 2001. She has suffered broken ribs and other injuries, and been called vicious names in the pro-government media for her outspoken campaign for democracy and free expression in Tunisia. For her work, she has been awarded the 2008 Danish Peace Award, as well as other awards including the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) 2004 International Press Freedom Award.
The IFEX-TMG believes all rights activists and journalists in Tunisia deserve the same respect under the law of any citizen, and calls for the government to cease these repeated brutal attacks on these courageous activists. TMG members further support the complaint being registered by Bensedrine and Mestiri against the customs agents for brutality and false imprisonment.