The UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) ended on 18 November without achieving its goals and marked by the harassment to journalists and civil society activists.
The Summit aimed to fill the gap between developed and developing countries to ensure that benefits from the digital revolution in information and communication are accessible to all. Outside the Summit forum, the main events were linked to the human rights and press freedom problems in Tunisia. Foreign journalists were beaten and harassed while covering the summit while civil society activists planning a Citizen’s Summit were harassed and detained.
Filing the digital gap, a main point of the summit, achieved nothing but a declaration of principles. The creation of a solidarity fund, encouraged by developing countries, was mentioned, but the mechanisms of financing were not set.
Although the summit’s final declaration linked the digital process with freedom of expression, several incidents took place in the days before and during the event.
On 11 November, a journalist for the French newspaper Libération was beaten and stabbed, a crew with the Belgian television station RTBF was attacked three days later and the crew of the French TV5 station left the country after being harassed by agents of the Tunisian security forces in civil clothes, according to reports.
Security forces also prevented Tunisian and foreign journalists, as well as members of human rights associations, to enter the German Cultural Center in Tunis to prepare the alternative Citizen’s Summit on the Information Society. A round table seminar by a coalition of international press freedom groups was also cancelled.
"Tunisia is once again demonstrating why it is an inappropriate place to hold a United Nations summit," said Melanie Walker, Acting Director of Press Freedom Programs for the World Association of Newspapers "The UN was repeatedly warned about holding the WSIS in a country that does not respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press. We can only hope that Tunisia's behavior will convince the UN never to hold another summit in a country that does not respect human rights."
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