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Tunisian journalist in desert prison could die from untreated asthma attacks

Agonised: Tunisian journalist Fahem Boukadous.

Tunisian journalist Fahem Boukadous has been in extremely poor health since police arrested him on July 15 to begin serving a four-year jail sentence for covering protests in the Gafsa mining region in the spring of 2008 for the international satellite TV station El Hiwar Ettounsi.

Boukadous, who suffers from acute asthma attacks and was undergoing medical tests when police arrested him, is being held in a cell in Gafsa prison, in the middle of the desert, where the temperature can rise to 50 C. His days could be numbered if he continues to be denied appropriate medical care, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has said.

Wife and fellow activist Afef Benaceur saw the deterioration in his health when she visited him in the prison. He was denied prompt medical attention when he had a very acute attack on July 23. Instead of being given oxygen, as required in such cases, he was left in his cell. Fellow inmates had to beat on their cell doors and shout for help in order to alert the guards to the gravity of the situation.

When a doctor from the Gafsa regional hospital finally arrived 40 minutes later, he found Boukadous in an extremely critical condition and notified the prison authorities of his concerns. He was summoned too late and Boukadous could easily have been dead by the time he arrived, RSF said.

Denied due process, Boukadous was sentenced on January 13 by a court in Gafsa to four years in prison on charges of “forming a criminal association liable to attack persons and their property” and “disseminating information liable to disturb public order” under articles 131 and 121 of the criminal code.

Tunisian authorities insist that he is not a journalist although he has worked for El Hiwar Ettounsi since 2006. RSF also condemned the way Boukadous is being denied medical care in violation of international conventions on the rights of detainees. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, denial of medical treatment is regarded as violation of the ban on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Date posted: July 29, 2010 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 206