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Tunisian authorities must release dissenting journalist

The Tunisian authorities must immediately release a well known government critic, journalist Taoufik Ben Brik, Amnesty International said on Tuesday, and drop trumped up charges that could lead to him being imprisoned for up to five years. “Taoufik Ben Brik is being prosecuted on politically-motivated charges and he has not received a fair trial,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “He is a prisoner of conscience. He must be released immediately and unconditionally.” Taoufik Ben Brik was put on trial on 19 November at the Court of First Instance in Tunis, on charges of committing violence, damaging property, harming public morality and defamation. He denies 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. 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 presence of security officials both inside and around the court, who prevented journalists and others 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 proceedings. “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,” said Malcolm Smart. “It follows a pattern in which those who exercise their right to free speech to criticize the government or allege corruption are targeted for expressing dissent, in gross breach of Tunisia’s obligations under international law.”