The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Tunisian journalist run over by ex-cop media boss

Kamel Labidi writes:

Dear Friend,

The war on independent journalists in Tunisia suddenly intensified on Thursday when Journalist Khalil Hannachi of the daily Assabah  became the victim of a "murder attempt" perpetrated by the CEO of Dar Assabah media group Lotfi Touati, said journalists and two media unions.

Hannachi stood in front of Lotfi Touati's car earlier today, in an attempt to argue with the controversial and former police officer, whose appointment in August as CEO of the country's oldest media group spurred an unprecedented wave of protests among journalists and civil society advocates. But Touati started his car and moved ahead at full speed throwing Hannachi hundreds of meters away and inflicting on him severe injuries currently treated at Charles Nicole Hospital in Tunis, said the same sources.

"We strongly denounce this purely unjustified murder attempt. Our colleague only wanted to have a discussion with Touati about recent decisions made by the Board of Dar Assabah media group.  Even the two body guards he brought with him did not bother to intervene," said the Dar Assaba Media workers Union and the Dar Assabah branch of the National union of Journalists.

Dar Assabah journalists and technicians employees went on strike on Tuesday, accusing Touati, a former police officer imprisoned in the early 1980's for involvement in a corruption scandal and reporter who backed a 2009 coup against the democratically elected Board of the National Union of Journalists, of compromising the editorial independence of the French- and Arabic-language publications: the dailies Assabah and Le Temps and the weekly Assabah al-Ousboui.

The strike was the first of its kind in the media since Jan. 2011, when Tunisia evicted its autocratic ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The Dar Assabah group, which was established in the early 1950s, was run until January 2011 by Sakher Materi, a son-in-law of Ben Ali, now living in exile. Its new director, Lotfi Touati, is backed by the Islamist-led government, which controls the media outlets once owned by one of Ben Ali's daughters and in-laws. In August, the government ordered the eviction of the former Dar Assabah CEO Kamal Sammari, an independent-mined former journalist and spokesperson for Amnesty International, and his replacement by Touati, according to reliable sources.