Court dismisses cooking oil lawsuits against opposition daily
|Publisher||Reporters Without Borders|
|Publication Date||13 May 2009|
|Cite as||Reporters Without Borders, Court dismisses cooking oil lawsuits against opposition daily, 13 May 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a0be11dc.html [accessed 24 October 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
A Tunis court has dismissed the lawsuits that five Tunisian companies brought against the opposition daily Al Maoukif over an April 2008 article about an Algerian import ban on their cooking oil because it was said to be tainted.
Al Maoukif editor Rachid Khechana told Reporters Without Borders: "We are obviously pleased about the decision to dismiss the libel suits by the five companies but we hope the Tunisian authorities will in future stop trying to bring prosecutions against the independent press - stifling it and blocking its expansion - that they will stop bombarding it with lawsuits."
The five companies had been demanding a total of 500,000 dinars (274,000 euros) in damages from Al Maoukif.
18.04.2008 - French president urged to raise free speech during visit to Tunis, as seizures and lawsuits threaten opposition weekly
Reporters Without Borders called today on the Tuninisian authorities to put a stop to the harassment of the staff of the weekly Al-Maoukif, the mouthpiece of the opposition Progressive Democratic Party (PDP). The seizures of its latest issues and libel suits are threatening its survival. The organisation also wrote to French President Nicolas Sarkozy asking him to raise the issue of free expression during his 28-30 April visit to Tunis.
"The Tunisian government tries to protect itself from charges of censorship by simulating a political opening but Al-Maoukif knows the reality," the press freedom organisation said. "Published by one of the few permitted opposition parties, this weekly has an uphill struggle to get distributed and is liable to confiscated by the authorities at any time, without warning and without any reason being given."
Four issues of the weekly have been seized since 14 March without any announcement by the authorities and without the staff being told. In protest, members of the stafff and PDP activitists decided to distribute the latest issue on the streets of the capital. Party member Naima Hasni was jostled by plain-clothes police as she sold the newspaper to passers-by on Habib Bourguiba Avenue yesterday.
Al-Maoukif editor Rachid Khechana insists on the newspaper's right to exist. "We no longer even ask the state to provide us with the financial assistance that all Tunisian newspapers get," she told Reporters Without Borders. "We survive on the sales of our newspaper and we just ask for our right to be able to distribute it without obstruction."
The newspaper said the seizures seem to have been prompted by articles about sensitive social issues such as increases in the prices of basic staples and the distribution of contaminated cooking oil.
Libel actions have been brought against Khechana and managing editor Nejib Chebbi by five companies that market cooking oil. In all, these companies are requesting 500,000 dinars (274,000 euros) in damages. If they were forced to pay, the newspaper would have to close, Khechana said. He and Chebbi has been summoned to appear in court on 10 May.
In its letter to the French president, Reporters Without Borders also asked him to raise the problems of press freedom in Egypt when he receives Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Elysée Palace on 20 April.