A Tunisian judge refused to free a journalist who says his six-month prison sentence for assault is politically motivated, and delayed a verdict on an appeal, a defence lawyer said.
Judge Mohamed Ali Chouika said journalist Taoufik Ben Brik must stay in jail awaiting the appeal decision on January 30, lawyer Radhia Nasraoui said.
Ben Brik, arrested last October, was charged with beating up a woman during an argument in the street. He claims he is being punished for his criticism of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
“The harassment by the Tunisian regime against me has not stopped since 1990 and I’m the victim of a political issue, which all the world knows,” Ben Brik told the appeal court.
His case has focused attention on the North African country’s human rights record.
Staunch ally France, which usually avoids public criticism of Tunisia’s internal affairs, has voiced disappointment at the arrest.
Rights groups say the journalist, who has worked for several French newspapers and magazines, suffers from diabetes, chronic diarrhoea and a hormone disorder.
The authorities have insisted repeatedly that Ben Brik was guilty of a violent assault and should not be above the law.
Officials said he knocked the woman to the ground, punched and kicked her, swore at her and deliberately damaged her car.
Ben Ali, in power for 22 years, has insisted Tunisia is committed to respecting democracy and human rights.
He was re-elected to a fifth term in office last year with almost 90 percent of the vote.
Many Tunisians credit him with overseeing stability and relative prosperity in Tunisia, which attracts millions of European tourists each year.
Pic: Tunisian President -Zine Al Abidine Den Ali