Tunisia: relentless campaign against imprisoned blogger and journalist Slim Boukhdhir

In the last few weeks, Slim Boukhdhir, the 39-year old imprisoned blogger and journalist, is reported to have been subjected to an unusual level of harassment by prison authorities in the Sfax prison where he is serving the one-year sentence imposed by a Tunisian court on December 4th, 2007. Boukdhir was charged with “aggression against a public employee” and “affront to public decency”.

His wife, Dalenda Boukhdhir, told Global Voices that the prison authorities placed Slim in “dry cell” for three days, from 20-23 March, 2008, turning off the water in his cell so he couldn't wash. These measures have further aggravated the already serious health condition of her husband, she said. Mme Boukdhir has complained to the Red Cross about prison conditions and is hoping the Red Cross staff will visit Slim at the prison.

Slim Boukhdhir has staged several hunger strikes to protest the inhumane conditions under which he is being detained. His most recent hunger strike was called off on February 22, 2008, on the urging of his wife.

“Preventing a prisoner from seeing his family or having a clean cell is a flagrant violation of human rights,” Reporters Without Borders has said, “the injustice of sentencing this journalist to a year in prison is being compounded by his conditions of detention and staging a hunger strike has become his only way of making himself heard.”

We include below an alert from Luiza Toscane, a Human right activist, posted on the forum section of the Tunisian website Nawaat. (The English translation was done by Jennifer Brea, Global Voices’ French Language editor):

Lors de la visite qu'elle a rendu jeudi 13 mars à son mari, Slim Boukhdhir, journaliste incarcéré à la prison de Sfax, Dalenda Boukhdhir a pu constater que l'acharnement des autorités pénitentiaires à l'endroit de son mari ne connaissait pas de répit : ce dernier lui a dit que non seulement il vivait toujours dans sa cellule infecte et exiguë, mais aussi que depuis trois jours, il n'avait plus accès à un point d'eau. Les autorités pénitentiaires ont fait couper l'eau, et à la différence de ses co détenus, il ne peut sortir pour se laver ailleurs.

During her March 13th visit to her husband, Slim Boukhdir, a journalist incarcerated in Sfax prison, Dalenda Boukhdhir saw that the prison authorities’ relentlessness knew no bounds: Slim told her that not only he still confined to a foul and cramped cell, but for the last three days, he had no access to a water source. The prison authorities cut off the water, and unlike his fellow prisoners, he could not leave his cell to wash himself elsewhere.

Slim Boukhdhir a alors envisagé une nouvelle grève de la faim pour protester contre cette nouvelle atteinte à ses droits élémentaires, projet que ses proches lui ont proposé d'abandonner. Et aujourd'hui, le couffin de nourriture qui lui a été apporté par sa mère a été accepté par l'administration pénitentiaire, signe que le détenu aurait consenti à renoncer à sa grève, signe aussi que Slim Boukhdhir renvoie la balle dans le camp des défenseurs des droits de l'homme : à nous d'exiger que soit mis un terme à ses conditions infra humaines d'incarcération, à nous de tout mettre en oeuvre pour sa libération.

So Slim Boukhdhir planned a new hunger strike to protest against this new affront to his basic rights, a project his family and friends urged him to abandon. And today, the prison authorities allowed him the food basket his mother brought, a sign that the prisoner agreed to renounce his strike, and also a sign that Slim Boukhdhir is tossing the ball back to the human rights defenders, into their court. It is up to us to demand an end to the inhuman conditions of incarceration. It is up us to do all we can to secure his freedom.

Slim Boukhdir was arrested on November 26 and charged with “aggression against a public employee” and “affront to public decency”. He started blogging on the Arabic Blog Service: Maktoob Blogs after losing his job as journalist at the Tunisian “Akhbar Al-Joumhurya” (News of the Republic) newspaper on August 2004. In July 2007, his blog was hacked into and deleted. Until his arrest on November 26, 2007, Slim Boukhdhir continued his work as correspondent for the Al-Arabiya TV Website, the London-based pan-Arab daily Al Quds Al Arabi and the German Qantara web portal.

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