13 April 2007
 
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Freedom of Expression Under Siege in Tunisia

Increasing repression by the Tunisian government has caused a "serious deterioration" in press freedom in the country, according to an international coalition of freedom of expression  and human rights groups, including the World Association of Newspapers.

"We have disappointingly witnessed serious deterioration in the conditions related to freedom of expression in Tunisia, particularly with respect to independent organisations, harassment of journalists and dissidents, independence of the judiciary, blocking of books and websites, and the imprisonment of human rights lawyer Mohamed Abbou for voicing his opinion in articles on the internet," said the coalition in a report released Thursday following a mission to the country to assess freedom of expression.

"We are merely asking Tunisian authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations," the report said. "Basic human rights, such as freedom of expression, movement and association, and the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and to create organisations without government interference, do not exist in Tunisia."

The report called on the Tunisian government to take specific measures to conform to international laws and standards of free expression, and it called on the international community to "take responsibility in holding Tunisia to account for its international obligations."

Tunisia played host to the United Nation's World Summit on the Information Society in November 2005, despite international condemnation of its human rights practices. Those practices have deteriorated since the WSIS, and dramatically over the past year, according to the report issued by the Tunisian Monitoring Group, a coalition of 16 freedom of expression and human rights groups.

The report is based on the group's most recent mission to Tunisia from 27 February to 4 March in which it met with members of the government, opposition, public officials, independent civil society organisations, human rights defenders, journalists, publishers and librarians.

The report calls on the Tunisian government to release all prisoners of opinion, allow freedom of movement and expression, end censorship and the blocking of web sites and publications, allow freedom of association, end harassment of organisations and individuals, and lift restrictions on journalists and publications.

"No significant, positive development has occurred for freedom of expression in Tunisia since the WSIS in November 2005," the report said. "On the contrary, reports indicate a stalemate in most domains and deterioration in others. Interviewees reported an increase resort to intimidation and violence, and the impossibility of challenging such abusive practices."

The full report can be found at http://www.wan-press.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=1 .

The Tunisia Monitoring Group was set up in 2004 to monitor freedom of expression in Tunisia in the run-up to and following the World Summit on the Information Society. The 16 organisations are all members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a global network of 71 national, regional and international organisations committed to defending the right to freedom of expression.

The most recent mission to Tunisia included Carl Morten Iversen of Norwegian PEN, Yousef Ahmed of Index on Censorship, Virginie Jouan of the World Association of Newspapers, and Alexis Krikorian of the International Publishers Association.

Other members of the Tunisian Monitoring Group are the Arabic Human Rights Information Network, Article 19, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, International Federation of Journalists, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, International Press Institute, Journaliste en Danger,  Media Institute of South Africa, World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, and the World Press Freedom Committee.

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 76 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 10 regional and world-wide press groups.

Inquiries to: Larry Kilman, Director of Communications, WAN, 7 rue Geoffroy St Hilaire, 75005 Paris France. Tel: +33 1 47 42 85 00. Fax: +33 1 47 42 49 48. Mobile: +33 6 10 28 97 36. E-mail: lkilman@wan.asso.fr