Tunisia begins trial of government critic

Tunisian journalist Taoufik Ben Brik accused the authorities of jailing him for criticising the government, on the first day of his trial on charges of assaulting a woman in the street.
International press freedom groups say he is being prosecuted on trumped up charges to muzzle his criticism of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Officials say he knocked over the woman, kicked her and insulted her.
“I was incarcerated because of my writing … I am a hostage to President Ben Ali,” the journalist told the judge during a hearing yesterday. The case was later adjourned until Nov. 26.
The case has taken on an international dimension after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a French radio station he was disappointed with Ben Brik’s arrest.
Ben Ali responded in a speech last week by attacking what he called “foreign interference” in Tunisia’s internal affairs.
The journalist, a virulent critic of the Tunisian leader, has been held in custody since his arrest on Oct. 29, after the alleged victim filed a complaint.
The hearing was attended by Helene Flautre, a French member of the European parliament and by representatives of campaign group Reporters without Borders.
Abd Erraouf Bazoaui, a lawyer for the woman who alleges Ben Brik attacked her, denied in court that there was any political agenda behind the case.
“This man assaulted a woman in a country that respects women and should not escape the law,” the lawyer said.
Rights campaigners accuse Tunisia of using the police and courts to stifle criticism of the authorities, and of paying only lip service to democracy.
Ben Ali has said Tunisia is committed to democracy and human rights. Re-elected to a fifth term as president last month with 89.62% of the vote, many Tunisians credit him with overseeing stability and relative prosperity.
Ben Brik, who is 49, has worked for a number of French newspapers, magazines and media outlets.

Pic: President Zine -al Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisa