DIGITAL FREEDOM NETWORK: Human rights and cyber-rights news Tunisian Internet activist goes on hunger strike by Robert Lebowitz, Digital Freedom Network URL: www.dfn.org/news/tunisia/hunger.htm (January 22, 2003) Imprisoned Tunisian Internet activist Zouhair Yahyaoui is in the fifth day of his hunger strike to protest the harsh conditions of his confinement. Zouhair Yahyaoui founded TUNeZine.com soon after he graduated from college. (Photo courtesy of TUNeZine.) Yahyaoui has been held captive since June, 2002, when he was sentenced to 24 months for posting satirical criticism of the Tunisian government on his Web site, Tunezine. He is currently detained in prison civile de Borj El Amri, where he is suffering from mouth sores and severe headaches in harsh, overcrowded conditions. "There are now one hundred people in each cell, with two or three to a bed," said Yahyaoui's fiancee, Sophie Elwarda. "They don't have a bed for new prisoners so [these new prisoners] just sleep on the floor." To illustrate the government's repression of the deplorable conditions of its prisons, Elwarda pointed out that the author of a recent article, "The hell of the Tunisian prisons" published in the Tunisian magazine "Réalités," was fired under pressure from Tunisian authorities. "There are now one hundred people in each cell, with two or three to a bed." Prisons remain closed to inspections by independent monitoring groups. Throughout 2002, inmates staged frequent hunger strikes to protest overcrowding, poor hygiene, medical neglect, the assignment of prisoners to facilities far from their families, and other abuses. According to Human Rights Watch, srikers were sometimes beaten, denied family visits, or placed in isolation. An act of desperation According to Sophie Elwarda, Zouhair Yahyaoui undertook this hunger strike out of desperation. "He does not want to die, but he wants this hell to stop," said Elwarda. "He has lost all hope. I have tried to visit him. I went to the prison and gave my passport and they knew exactly who I was. But they didn't let me see him." Currently, Yahyaoui's case rests in the Court of Cassation, which acts as the final arbiter for a courtcase in Tunisia, considering arguments on points of law as opposed to the facts of a case. However, says Elwarda, the Court of Cassation is bound under no time limitation and can decide Yahyaoui's case in two or more years if it wishes. In the meantime, Yahyaoui refuses to eat despite having suffering even more mental and physical suffering as a result of his hunger strike. What you can do Send a letter to President Ben Ali protesting the illegal imprisonment of Mr Yahyaoui and demanding his immediate release: His Excellency Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali President of the Republic of Tunisia Presidential Palace Carthage, Tunisia Via facsimile: + (216) 71 744-721 Sophie Elwarda also suggests writing to the Tunisian foreign minister in your country. Zouhair Yahyaoui, nicknamed "Ettounsi" ("The Tunisian"), is the founder of a popular and flourishing Webzine, Tunezine. He was arrested last June and is now serving a two-year prison term. His "crime" appears to be in part his sense of humor: his lively magazine invited readers to vote on whether Tunisia was a "republic, a kingdom, a zoo or a prison." The results of this interesting poll are unclear, however, because not long after it appeared, Yahyaoui was seized by members of Tunisia's security services at his place of work (a cyber café on the outskirts of Tunis). He was escorted back to his house, which was then searched without a warrant, and taken into custody. For 48 hours nobody was told of his whereabouts. After his arrest, Yahyaoui was pressured—some report that he was tortured—into revealing his Web site's access code. He was charged with "propagation of false news" and "non-authorized use of an Internet connection" and sentenced to 28 months' imprisonment, later reduced to 24 months. Yahyaoui declined to attend his hearing, saying he did not "trust a justice that followed orders [from above]." Copyright (c) 2002 Digital Freedom Network (http://dfn.org). All rights reserved. This article may be reproduced or redistributed for online not-for-profit use without prior written consent as long as DFN is recognized with this credit. For information about DFN's permissions policy, see <http://dfn.org/about/permissions.htm>. ========== HURIDOCS-Tech listserv ========== Send mail intended for the list to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Archives of the list can be found at: http://www.hrea.org/lists/huridocs-tech/markup/maillist.php To subscribe to the list, send a message to <email@example.com>, with the following text in the message: subscribe huridocs-tech To unsubscribe from the list, send a message to <firstname.lastname@example.org>, with the following text in the message: unsubscribe huridocs-tech If you have problems (un)subscribing, contact <email@example.com>.
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