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Tunisian Opposition Leader Beaten by Cops

October 1, 2009

Hamma Hammami, the former editor of the banned newspaper Alternatives and spokesman for the illegal Communist Party of Tunisian Workers (PCOT), was badly beaten by police yesterday after criticizing the country’s government in an interview for Al Jazeera, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Hammami was returning to Tunis from Paris, where he had given the interview – in which he criticized Tunisia’s electoral system, human rights abuses, censorship of the press – on September 25th.

Hammami’s wife, Radhia Nasraoui, a lawyer and human rights activist, told Reporters Without Borders that she had taken a taxi to meet her husband at the Tunis airport, because her car’s tires had been slashed. “I saw Hamma arrive, his mouth covered with blood, his glasses broken, bruises on his face, surrounded by about 20 policemen who were continuing to hit him,” she said, “A policeman came up to me, snatched my mobile phone and threw it away with great force.” Nasraoui added that after returning home they learned that the Tunisian authorities had told France 24 – a 24-hour French news syndicate – that Hammami had arrived back in Tunis without any problem.

“We no longer have the right to express our views in Tunisia,” she said.

According to the BBC, “Human rights activists in Tunisia and abroad accuse the government of widespread abuses, including the torture and harassment of dissidents,” and of “using the courts to silence political opponents.”

In 1999, Mr. Hammami was handed a nine-year prison sentence for belonging to an illegal organization (PCOT), in what he called an unfair trail. He went into hiding with two colleagues for four years, eventually coming forward in February 2002. Before his court appearance he told reporters that he and his colleagues were not extremists or outlaws, but had “refused to submit to dictatorship… and repressive laws.” He said that even if imprisoned “we will continue the struggle from the darkest corners of our cells.” His nine-year sentence was confirmed, but he was released in September 2002.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.