Pen name: Ettounsi
Profession: internet journalist
Sentence: two years
Date of Arrest: 4 June 2002
Sentence Expires: 3 June 2004
Details of trial: Arrested at a Tunis cybercafé on 4 June 2002 by six plainclothes police officers without an arrest warrant. Initially charged with “publishing information known to be untrue” under Article 309 of the Tunisian Penal Code. Yahyaoui was sentenced to two years and four months’ imprisonment on 20 June 2002 by the Tribunal de Première Instance in Tunis. The founder of internet site TUNeZINE.com received one year for “propagation of false news” and a further year and four months for “non-authorised usage of an internet connection” and “theft from an employer”. Yahyaoui did not attend the hearing, declaring that he “did not trust a justice that followed orders (from above)”. Yahyaoui reported being assaulted and tortured during his interrogation. Under said torture, he revealed his website’s access code, allowing the Tunisian authorities to remove TUNeZINE.com from the internet. Yahyaoui founded the website in July 2001 in order to disseminate information concerning the struggle for democracy in Tunisia and to publish opposition material. It was one of the first sites to circulate a letter from Yahyaoui’s uncle, Judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui, to President Ben Ali denouncing the Tunisian judicial system. Yahyaoui was re-tried on 3 July 2002 but was denied access to his lawyers during the hearing. On 10 July, Yahyaoui’s sentence was reduced on appeal from twenty-eight months to two years.
Place of detention: Prison civile de Borj El Amri
Health Concerns: In September 2002, it was reported that Yahyaoui was suffering acute kidney problems. The same month he began refusing all food and water in a bid to ensure that no other prisoners were consigned to his already cramped cell. When Yahyaoui refused to take an undisclosed medicine to ease his kidney pains, two guards reportedly assaulted him, injuring his back. He was eventually admitted to hospital on 13 September for a brief period. In November it was reported that Yahyaoui was beset by an abscess on a tooth for which he was being denied medical treatment by the prison authorities. Following a third hunger strike by Yahyaoui which ended on June 2003 the journalist suffered pain to his stomach, eyes and teeth. Despite asking to see a doctor he has not been permitted to do so as at 9 July 2003. This third hunger strike began after he was refused medication and food provided by his family, and his family visits were drastically shortened.
Awards: 2003 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, 2003 Cyber-Freedom Prize awarded by Reporters Sans Frontieres and Globenet.
Honorary Member: English PEN, American PEN, Scottish PEN
Released: 18 November 2003
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/honorarymembers/tunisia/zouhairyahyaoui/