Tunisia’s Free Speech Record Spoils Hopes For United Nations Internet Summit Says IFJ

A report issued today warning that freedom of expression is under siege in Tunisia underscores the need for urgent change in the country in the months leading up to the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society, which is due to conclude in Tunis in November.

The International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest journalists’ group, says that the credibility of the summit is threatened while the host country is intimidating human rights activists, closing down dissident Internet sites and continuing with censorship of books and newspapers.

“It is hard to talk of free speech in cyberspace in a country that stifles the authentic voice of independent journalism,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary following the launch of a 60-page report on the state of freedom of expression in Tunisia published by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), the Toronto-based confederation of national, regional and international freedom of expression groups.

The report, which was released to coincide with the second Preparatory Committee for the WSIS, in Geneva, sets out the findings of a mission to Tunisia of freedom of expression groups and makes recommendations to the Tunisian government to bring the country in line with international human rights standards before the opening of the summit.

Its main recommendations are that Tunisia should end all forms of censorship including restricting the distribution of books and newspapers and blocking of websites, including news and information websites. The report says there is extensive police surveillance of e-mails and Internet cafes and that individuals are held for expression of their opinions or media activities.

“We have long complained about the restrictions on media dissidents,” said Aidan White, “But as the opening of the United Nations summit nears, it is vital that the government acts to abolish the surveillance, harassment, intimidation and interception of communications that has characterised the media scene in Tunisia for years.”

If this is not done, says the IFJ, the credibility of the World Summit will be damaged. The summit aims to assist millions around the world who are victims of a “digital divide” that denies poorer communities access to Information Society technology and communications resources. “This summit is about creating a world of fairness and openness with everyone sharing in the benefits of new communications technology, but it is in danger of being spoiled by Tunisia’s lack of respect for pluralism and press freedom, which are the life-blood of the Information Society.”

Link to IFEX Report:www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/64665