Sihem Bensedrine detained in Tunisia
20 Aug 2008

Index on Censorship award winner prevented from leaving country by security forces

Journalist and free expression activist Sihem Bensedrine was forcibly prevented from leaving Tunisia by security forces at Tunis Airport on 19 August.

The 2006 Index on Censorship journalism prize winner had refused to cooperate with officials unless they indentified themselves and gave a legally authorised reason for their search, which they refused to do. In turn the security forces refused to let her board the flight.

Bensedrine says her laptop and bags were searched repeatedly and thrown around the room and she was pushed and shoved by the officials. The plane left without her.

She endured similar treatment in March when arriving in Tunisia with her husband at the Tunisian port of La Goulette. They were held by customs for six hours, during which time she was beaten and her property confiscated, including cell phones, documents and computer hard discs.

Bensedrine is the Secretary General of the Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC). She is also spokesperson of the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT).

She was awarded the Index on Censorship/Hugo Young Journalism Award for bringing attention to human rights abuses in her home country.

In addition to the Index on Censorship prize, she was also awarded the 2008 Danish Peace Award and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) 2004 International Press Freedom Award.

In a statement OLPEC condemned her treatment and the Tunisian state’s use of arbitrary prohibitions to prevent the free movement of journalists.

Lawyer Raouf Ayadi said that once a detailed search of Bensedrine’ bags failed to turn up anything suspicious, she should have been free to board the plane. Instead she was handed over to unidentified ‘officials’ who tried to force her into a closed office without explanation. He noted that Bensedrine had lodged an official complaint about her treatment in March, which has been ignored by the authorities.

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