Reporters sans Frontières (Paris)
Reporters Without Borders has criticised the Tunisian authorities for expelling French journalist Léa Labaye, of the satirical website http://www.Bakchich.info, who was sent back to Paris immediately after arrival in Tunisia on 16 September 2006, without any official explanation.
“This expulsion demonstrates once again that journalists who criticise President Ben Ali are not welcome in the country,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “It recalls the banning of our secretary general from attending the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunisia in November 2005.”
Bakchich.info, an “irreverent” website about Africa, the Maghreb, the Middle East and France, was launched by a group of French journalists in May 2006. It is filtered in Tunisia and can only be accessed through proxy servers ( for proxy servers, see : http://www.rsf.org/article.php3 ?id_article=15013 ).
After Labaye landed in Tunis on an afternoon flight from Paris, airport officials prevented her from leaving her seat and sent her back to France in the same plane. The young journalist had written a by-lined article about Tunisia on Bakchich.info on 23 August in which she attacked the latest book by Antoine Sfeir, editor of “Cahiers de l’Orient”, as a “work of propaganda” in favour of the Tunisian government. She was also in phone contact with several political dissidents living in the country.
“In Tunisia, online journalists who cause annoyance are sent back at the border, local cyber-dissidents are imprisoned and independent websites are filtered : this country confirms every day that it fully deserves its place on our list of the “15 Enemies of the Internet”, the organisation said.
Let us not forget that it would be impossible to maintain a website like Bakchich.info from inside Tunisia. Mohammed Abbu, who has been in jail since March 2005 for using a website to criticise the president, found that out the hard way”.
Abbu, a lawyer and human rights activist, was arrested overnight on 1st March 2005 after posting an article online comparing the politics of President Ben Ali with those of then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He was sentenced on 29 April to three years and six months in prison in a travesty of a trial. The authorities have also been harassing his family. His wife, Samia, has been subjected to lengthy questioning every time she visits the prison in which her husband is being held.
Dissident judge, Mokhtar Yahyawi, has also continued to suffer harassment. His blog was hacked into at the beginning of August and is now closed. He was invited to the EU headquarters in Brussels to talk about the political situation in Tunisia on 28 September but the authorities have banned him from leaving the country. Yahyawi strongly condemned Labaye’s expulsion, adding that in Tunisia, “We badly need the humour and independence of a site like Bakchich.info”.
On 17 November 2005, Tunisian police in plain clothes physically prevented RSF Secretary General Robert Ménard from leaving the plane on which he had just arrived at Tunis airport to attend the WSIS conference.