7. Take action against interference by government employees in the privacy of human rights and political activists and end the withholding of their mail and email.
8. Lift the arbitrary travel ban on human rights defenders and political activists, including Mokhtar Yahyaoui and Mohammed Nouri.
9. Take serious steps toward lifting all restrictions on independent journalism and encouraging diversity of content and ownership of the press.
10. Promote genuine pluralism in broadcast content and ownership including fair and transparent procedures for the award of radio and TV broadcast licences.
11. Allow independent investigation into cases of torture allegedly perpetrated by security forces.
12. Conform to international standards on freedom of association and freedom of assembly and grant legal recognition to independent civil society groups such as the CNLT, the Tunis Center for the Independence of the Judiciary, the League of Free Writers, OLPEC, the International Association to Support Political Prisoners, the Association for the Struggle against Torture, and RAID-ATTAC-Tunisia.
This is a set of recommendations which the Tunisia Monitoring Group of international freedom of expression organizations will use to measure progress in Tunisia in the run up to and following the Tunis Summit of the WSIS. If the Tunisian government is to assure the support of the international community for a successful Summit in November it will need to make substantial progress towards achieving the reforms which are needed for the country to be a model and not a mockery of international human rights norms and standards.
Judge Lyon-Caen took part in several trial observation missions to Tunisia with Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Paris-based Fédération Internationale des Ligues des droits de l’Homme (FIDH). For example, he followed the Hammami trial. In his case, as in many others, force prevailed over law. The Tunisian government treats the legal system with contempt. Judges are mere puppets in the hands of the authorities. According to him, Tunisian judges do not respect basic court rules and do not know how a hearing should be organised. Court proceedings are therefore often chaotic. Besides, they are under tight police influence. Despite a lower prison term in appeal than in first instance (3 years instead of 9), the sentence against Hammami remained heavy given the offences concerned. Overall, his trial was far from fair. It should be further noted that Mr. Hammami was released before the end of his term. In a way, this is an example of contempt of the Executive branch vis-à-vis the Judiciary.
Tunisian press do not report on these court hearings because, like the judges themselves, it is not free. He noted that some judges try to stand up for their rights and those of the Judiciary like judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui who sent an open letter to President Ben Ali in 2001. As a result, he was sacked and, overall, has had to pay a very heavy price for this courageous act. Lawyers are ill-treated as well. For instance, the Police recently and voluntarily used violence against lawyer Nadia Nasraoui. She got a broken nose.
In conclusion, the Tunisian Judiciary has a long way to go in order to be able to defend the people’s basic rights and can only evolve in that direction through a substantial, democratic development.
Larry Kilman, Director of Communication, World Association of Newspapers (WAN), discussed Press Freedom in Tunisia as seen from abroad. He said that WAN Director, Timothy Balding, had recently met with the Tunisian Ambassador to France, Moncef Rouissi, to discuss WAN’s concerns about the situation of press freedom in Tunisia. The latter denied that the country had any press freedom problems. The Tunisian Ambassador admitted he had not read the LTDH report and he declined WAN’s offer to provide him with a copy. Larry Kilman further stated that the Tunisian authorities had launched a massive propaganda campaign about the state of press freedom in the country prior to the WSIS in November 2005.
He also said that the Tunisian Journalists Association (AJT/TJA), which is completely loyal to the government, awarded a press freedom prize to President Ben Ali in late 2003, which led to its suspension from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in 2004, which called it a “ridiculous move”.
Furthermore, WAN expelled the Tunisian Association of Newspapers from its membership in 1997 because it was clear that it had no intention of defending and promoting freedom of the press in Tunisia. Over the years, they had become accomplices to the repression. The association now claims that it resigned its membership, but this was not the case. They fought to the bitter end and tried to do everything to save their membership.
Despite international condemnation, the Summit will go ahead in Tunisia. By failing to change the venue, the UN missed an opportunity to show repressive regimes that it is in their own best interest to respect freedom of expression. Instead, President Ben Ali is now saying that the decision to hold the WSIS in Tunisia represents an international endorsement of his policies.
It is important to continue to point out the folly of such statements, and press the Tunisian government to show respect for freedom of expression and to make other human rights improvements.
Lotfi Hajji, President of the Independent Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists, discussed press freedom in Tunisia from a Tunisian perspective. He outlined the history of journalism in Tunisia from the early 1990s. The Independent Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists was created because Tunisian journalists felt that they did not have an independent organisation, which could defend their interests. Since the early 1980s the local branch of IFJ has not been able to do its work properly. Each time it would try to play an independent role, the authorities pressured it. He said that journalists are increasingly marginalised within Tunisian press organisations. Not a single Tunisian press organisation is endowed with a Board of Directors making policy decisions. This leads to great confusion. There is only ONE editor-in-chief in Tunisia: President Ben Ali.
The Tunisian authorities launched a smear-campaign against the Al-Jazeera TV network because it had broadcast a critical program about Tunisia.
In conclusion, he stated that the Independent Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists demanded that Tunisian Law and the Code of conduct of Tunisian journalists be respected. The Syndicate also demands that all Tunisian journalists be able to carry out their work independently.
Moncef Marzouki, a Tunisian Militant living in exile, was due do speak about civil and political rights in Tunisia, but he cancelled prior to the roundtable. Mr. Krikorian read his written statement.
Sihem Bensedrine, spokesperson of the Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), tackled civil and political rights in Tunisia from a WSIS-perspective and referred to civil and political rights in Tunisia as an “empty space”. She said that, since the late 1980s, when Ben Ali took power, no independent organisation has been officially approved by the authorities. Since the early 1990s, all newspapers that used to be free and independent were “killed” by the authorities. In Tunisia, independence is considered a major crime by the authorities. There is no freedom of assembly (no public demonstrations allowed). The entire Tunisian society has been slotted into a small framework like that of the former Soviet Union. The authorities know everything about each and every individual. More than 10’000 Tunisians have been imprisoned for “political crimes” in recent years. 500 are still in jail.
On the question of copyright in Tunisia, she said that law protects copyright. However, the law is not being implemented. There is no freedom to write, nor freedom to publish in Tunisia. The authorities, as a requisite, must give “prior permission”. In other words, copyright is protected legally speaking, but the lack of freedom on the publishers’ and writers’ part deprives them from effective copyright protection.
On a question about whether or not international NGOs should attend the WSIS, she answered that it was a difficult question. However, she added that international presence during the Summit (November 2005, Tunis) was welcomed because she viewed it as a possibility to actually discuss and debate human rights and freedom of expression in Tunisia.