Tunisian authorities are preventing journalists and foreign correspondents from doing their work during the presidential election period, press watchdog Reporters Without Borders said.
The election is almost certain to hand a new term to Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, president for the past 22 years, and a staunch ally in the West’s fight against Islamist militants, Reuters reports.
Ben Ali’s opponents accuse him of suppressing dissent, but many voters credit the 73-year old with making the North African country one of the most prosperous in the region and overseeing political stability. “Pluralism in news is still not a reality in Tunisia,” RSF secretary General Jean-Francois Julliard, who visited Tunis earlier this month, said in a statement.
“President Ben Ali is splashed on the front pages of newspapers that are tireless in his praise. Unfavourable opinions of the head of state are largely absent from media.”
Journalists were also facing a permanent police presence during the election period, RSF said. “We also condemn the attitude of the Tunisian authorities who prevent Tunisian journalists and foreign correspondents from doing their work,” the organisation said.
“This state of affairs is unacceptable.” The Tunisian government says it is committed to democracy and freedom of expression, and denies imposing any restrictions on independent journalists.
Tunisia is ranked 154th out of 175 countries in the RSF’s 2009 world press freedom rankings.