Tunisia: Freedom of Expression under Siege

Tunisia: Freedom of Expression under Siege

Report of the
IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group on the conditions for participation in the World Summit on the Information Society, to be held in Tunis, November 2005

February 2005

Executive Summary
The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) is a global network of 64 national, regional and international freedom of expression organisations.

This report is based on a fact-finding mission to Tunisia undertaken from 14 to 19 January 2005 by members of the  IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG) together with additional background research and Internet testing.

The mission was composed of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights, International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, International Publishers Association, Norwegian PEN, World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) and World Press Freedom Committee.

Other members of IFEX-TMG are:  ARTICLE 19, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), the Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Index on Censorship, Journalistes en Danger (JED), Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), and World Association of Newspapers (WAN).

The principle findings of the mission were:

·    Imprisonment of individuals related to expression of their opinions or media activities.

·    Blocking of websites, including news and information websites, and police surveillance of e-mails and Internet cafes.

·    Blocking of the distribution of books and publications.

·    Restrictions on the freedom of association, including the right of organizations to be legally established and to hold meetings.

·    Restrictions on the freedom of movement of human rights defenders and political dissidents together with police surveillance, harassment, intimidation and interception of communications.

·    Lack of pluralism in broadcast ownership, with only one private radio and one private TV broadcaster, both believed to be loyal supporters of President Ben Ali.

·    Press censorship and lack of diversity of content in newspapers.

·    Use of torture by the security services with impunity.

The IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) believes that Tunisia must greatly improve its implementation of internationally agreed freedom of expression and other human rights standards if it is to hold the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in November 2005.

In particular we urge the Tunisian authorities to:

1.    Release Hamadi Jebali, editor of the weekly Al Fajr and hundreds of prisoners like him held for their religious and political beliefs and who never advocated or used violence.

2.    End arbitrary administrative sanctions compelling journalist Abdellah Zouari to live nearly 500 km away from his wife and children and guarantee his basic right to freedom of movement and expression.

3.    Release the seven cyber dissidents known as the Youth of Zarzis who, following unfair trials, have been sentences to heavy prison terms allegedly for using the Internet to commit terror attacks.  During the trials, no evidence of wrongdoing was offered, according to their lawyers and local and international human rights groups.

4.    End harassment and assaults on human rights and political activists and their relatives and bring to justice those responsible for ordering these attacks and perpetrating them.

5.    Stop blocking websites and putting Internet cafes and Internet users under police surveillance.

6.    Release banned books, end censorship, and conform to international standards for freedom of expression.

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.

The full report is available at:

English: Tunisia: Freedom of Expression under Siege