- New Website Documents Extensive Free Expression Violations -
International free expression groups today launched a new website detailing the state of free expression in Tunisia and challenged the government to end Internet blocking in the lead-up to the November 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
The Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 13 organisations belonging to the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), says Tunisia should show its commitment to upholding the principles of freedom of expression by ceasing the practice of blocking news and information websites that are critical of the Tunisian government.
“The information society of the future must be founded on free expression,” says Steve Buckley of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC). “That principle has been accepted by the governments of the world in preparing for the summit. It is intolerable that the host nation, Tunisia, remains a significant violator of free expression.”
The free expression organizations have documented systemic Internet censorship by Tunisian authorities. According to the TMG website - http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg - government censors routinely block access to at least 20 websites that provide independent news and analysis about human rights and political issues in Tunisia. They include kalimatunisie.com, tunezine.com, tunisnews.net and reveiltunisien.org.
"The Tunisian government must demonstrate their commitment to freedom of expression by allowing Tunisian citizens to visit the TMG website, and any other website covering human rights and political issues," says Mark Bench of the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC).
The website contains a report by the TMG, "Tunisia: Freedom of Expression Under Siege," which documents other serious free expression and other human rights abuses in Tunisia, including:
- The use of torture by security services;
- Imprisonment of hundreds of individuals on charges related to the peaceful exercise of their basic right to freedom of expression and association;
- Bans on dozens of books and publications that contains human rights information or pro-democracy writings;
- The harassment of civil society organisations and independent journalists.
The TMG says these abuses call into question Tunisia's suitability for hosting the WSIS. In a letter to President Ben Ali on 25 June 2005, the group called for an end to the abuses and for measures to improve human rights, including:
- The immediate release of lawyer Mohamed Abbou and Hamadi Jebali, editor of the banned weekly Al-Fajr;
- An end to arbitrary administrative sanctions and unrelenting police harassment against journalist Abdallah Zouari;
- The lifting of bans on all books and publications, including those written by prominent democracy advocates like Mohamed Talbi and Moncef Marzouki; and
- An end to the harassment of civil society groups, including the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia, the Tunis Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Association for the Struggle against Torture.
"The credibility of the WSIS will be seriously compromised and the Tunisian authorities will assume a huge responsibility in the eyes of the international community if effective measures are not taken immediately to improve free expression conditions," says Buckley.
For further information, contact:
- In Europe: Alexis Krikorian: Tel: +41 22 346 30 18, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- In North America: Mark Bench, WPFC: Tel: +1 914 684 0085; E-mail: email@example.com
For information on the TMG website, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group includes ARTICLE 19, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights, Index on Censorship, International Federation of Journalists, International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, International Publishers Association, Journalistes en Danger, Media Institute of Southern Africa, Norwegian PEN, World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, the World Association of Newspapers and the World Press Freedom Committee.
* The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) is a global network of 64 organisations that work to defend and promote the right to freedom of expression (www.ifex.org).