Smear Campaigns Waged at the Lowest Level
The Tunisian journalist Sihem Bensedrine is fighting against the indescribable methods of the regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who stops at nothing when it comes to dragging oppositionists through the mud. The Arab and Muslim world is all but indifferent to the situation. By Hamid Skif
This is one of the few regimes in the world that uses photomontage to disseminate fake pornographic videos for the purpose of sullying people's reputations. Many oppositionists have paid a high price for such defamation.
In order to conceal Ben Ali's relations with Ariel Sharon, who has been invited to the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in November, the Presidential Palace in Carthage describes the mother of three children as a prostitute who sells herself to Zionists.
Last year Sihem Bensedrine, whose home is under constant police surveillance, was attacked in broad daylight by a delinquent supported by the political police.
On May 28 President Ben Ali awarded the "Officer for Cultural Services" medal to Abdelhamid Riahi, the only journalist who dared to sign his name to these obscene articles. Thus Ben Ali is expressing his personal support of the campaign that has been conducted during the last 14 days.
Support from the Maghreb Region
Sihem Bensedrine is pleased about the support of journalists and women's organizations in Maghreb and is particularly moved by the attitude of the Algerians. She is still receiving e-mails from people in Maghreb who are outraged over the smear campaign that the privately owned newspapers in Tunis have launched at the behest of the Ministry of the Interior.
In Tunisia itself Sihem Bensedrine is supported by the Association of Democratic Women, the National Council for Liberties, of which she is the spokesperson, the Human Rights League, and several journalists, as well as lawyers who have spoken out in her defense. As in the past, the lawyers have volunteered to defend her in court. She has filed defamation charges against three newspapers.
There is no doubt that these charges, only one of which was entered, will never produce results. In 2001 Sihem Bensedrine filed a lawsuit in reaction to another campaign. She found herself before a judge who implied that it was up to her to prove that she was not what her slanderers alleged!
Campaigns waged at the lowest level
"I brought charges as a matter of principle, but I assume that my claim will be dismissed," Sihem Bensedrine emphasizes. "I took the case to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights issues and other organizations, because even if this campaign does not affect me personally, it represents a serious attack on my reputation. It is a section of the Ministry of the Interior that has the task of vilifying dissidents. It treats them as traitors, as people who sell themselves to the Zionists and the Americans. These campaigns are waged at the lowest level."
"Thus the misogynist side of the regime emerges clearly," Sedrine goes on to say, "the other side of the state feminism which they usually boast about. A woman in the public sphere is a prostitute the moment she is not at the service of the base interests of the government," she adds.
Sihem Bensedrine is convinced that the publication of a report by the National Council for Liberties on institutional disinformation in Tunisia was the determining factor in this umpteenth campaign. This report revealed that the high-circulation newspapers are secretly funded and controlled by the Ministry of the Interior.
"When I see the hatred that rains down on me as a result of these articles, there is indeed a real danger of being the victim of blows below the belt, but that is one of the risks that I have to take," explains Sihem Bensedrine, who is continuing to support the cause of unjustly imprisoned detainees and victims of torture, such as the artist Amin el-Hadli and dozens of young people who are accused of belonging to integrist groups, without so much as the slightest proof.
A letter to Germany's Foreign Minister
In Germany Klaus von Dohnanyi, former mayor of Hamburg and founder of the Hamburg Foundation for the Politically Persecuted, has just published an open letter to Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer urging him to intervene with the Tunisian government to put an end to the campaign and guarantee Sihem Bensedrine's safety.
Instead of listening to public opinion, which has been muzzled, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali will pay attention to his friends in the West, who at the moment are his best supporters.
© Qantara.de 2005
Translation from German: Phyllis Anderson
Interview Sihem Ben Sedrine
Untiring Work for Human Rights
Sihem Ben Sedrine is a Tunisian journalist and untiring human rights activist. She has now been awarded the 2003 Johann Philipp Palm Prize for Freedom of Speech and the Press. Interview by Silvia Kuske
Analysis Presidential Elections in Tunisia
Hopes Dashed for Democracy and a Civil Society
The recent presidential elections in Tunisia shed light on the deplorable state of democracy in that country and the regime's all-powerful control apparatus. A post-election report and analysis by Sihem Bensedrine