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Deiss raises human rights concerns in Tunisia

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has expressed Switzerland's concern over human rights abuses in Tunisia, during a two-day visit to the country.

A spokeswoman for Deiss said he raised the issue in talks with his Tunisian counterpart, Habib Ben Yahia, on Tuesday and specifically mentioned the case of Taoufik Ben Brick, a journalist who has been on hunger strike to protest against restrictions on press freedom in Tunisia.

The spokeswoman, Monika Schmutz, said Deiss "asked the Tunisian government to solve the problem of Ben Brick as soon as possible."

Schmutz said Deiss was satisfied that he managed to strike a balance in the talks between human rights and trade ties, which Switzerland had wanted the trip to focus on, as well as the Middle East peace process.

Ben Brick has been refusing food since April 3, in an effort to highlight his treatment at the hands of the authorities.

Last year, a Tunisian court confiscated his passport and ordered him to stop writing about human rights abuses in the country. He was also charged with libel after articles critical of the Tunisian government appeared in two Swiss newspapers.

Since then he has been under virtual house arrest, with police preventing foreign journalists from visiting him.

Shortly after his arrival on Monday, Deiss highlighted Switzerland's interest in the case by inviting Ben Brick's lawyer and other Tunisian journalists to a dinner given at the Swiss embassy.

Deiss also held talks with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, as well as several ministers responsible for economic affairs. Switzerland was particularly keen to discuss a free trade agreement between Tunisia and the European Free Trade Association (comprising Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland).

swissinfo with agencies

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