Slim Boukhdhir: the Plucky Blogger

For many, blogging is a gentle past-time, a means to communicate with family members, chronicle daily events, comment on current affairs, or even allow one’s imagination to run free and post stories that would otherwise languish by a dusty type-writer.

For others, however, blogging is a necessary activity that frequently places their lives in jeopardy, and yet they continue to defy warnings in order to publicise the wrongs of their society and government.

One such blogger is Slim Boukhdhir, a Tunisian Internet journalist who has been subjected to continuous harassment since he was freed in July after a politically motivated imprisonment.

Officers had alleged that Boukhdhir insulted them, prompting a questionable prosecution, as witnesses interviewed by Boukhdir’s lawyers and family members said police falsified statements to incriminate the journalist.

The judge at Boukhdir’s trial also prohibited prosecution witnesses from being cross-examined, while the one-year sentence he received for insulting police was previously unheard of for such offenses.

On his release from jail, Boukhdir remained unbowed, stating:

My release from jail is a victory for freedom and independent journalism. The Tunisian regime failed to break my will and determination to carry on with independent and ethical journalism.

Boukhdhir spent eight months in prison for writing articles critical of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but was once more abducted on Saturday night, while walking to an Internet café in downtown Sfax.

Bundled into a car and taken first to a police station near the city’s old district and then to an isolated area about nine miles (15 kilometers) west of Sfax, his captors then threatened him before forcing him from the car.

In an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Boukhdhir recounted:

After leaving the police station, they started insulting me and threatened to inflict on me the same fate of Libyan Internet journalist Daif Al Ghazal, kidnapped and killed in neighboring Libya in 2005. They even claimed they had nothing to do with Tunisian police and were hired by a fictitious man allegedly to teach me a lesson for having an affair with his wife.

According to the journalist, he believes the abduction was sparked by his recent article urging Ben Ali to follow Rice’s advice to loosen the state’s grip on civil society.

The 9 September piece was posted on the officially banned Tunisian news site Tunisnews and the Egyptian news site Al-Masryun, on which Boukhdhir argued that Rice’s call for reform was an opportunity Ben Ali should not miss.

Whether it is deemed political or religious-based criticism, writers such as Boukhdir continue to challenge the constraints, and by doing so ensure that freedom of expression survives.

It can only be hoped that it does not come at the cost of life, however.

[Image via: Menassat.]

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This entry was posted on September 23, 2008 by in Africa, Censorship, Middle East, Tunisia and tagged , , , .
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