Brev til Kofi Annan om situasjonen i Tunisia

October 1, 2005


His Excellency Kofi A. Annan
United Nations
Room 3800, United Nations Headquarters
New York, NY 10017


Dear Mr. Secretary-General

We civil society organizations participating at the Prepcom 3 of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva (17 – 30 September 2005) express our deep concern about the conditions in which the WSIS is about to take place in Tunis from 16 – 18 November 2005. Since we learned that the second phase of the Summit would take place in Tunisia, we have expressed serious concerns over at the violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Tunisian authorities. Today, shortly before the holding of the Summit, we unfortunately must note that there has been no improvement and that we have recently even witnessed a serious deterioration of fundamental freedoms as follows:

The harassment of the Association of Tunisian Judges and the disciplinary sanctions taken against its active members on 1st August; the prohibition of the holding of the founding congress of the Union of Tunisian Journalists on September 7th and the harassment of its members; the prohibition of the holding of the 6th congress of the Tunisian Human Rights League on September 9th and the police blocks of its local sections.

These new attacks come in an already alarming context regarding such threats to fundamental freedoms as

* Assaults on the Tunisian Bar that have included physical aggressions of lawyers at the law court and the sentencing of lawyer Mohamed Abbou in June 2005 to three years imprisonment – after an unfair trial – after he published on the Internet an article criticizing conditions in Tunisian prisons;
* Denial of the right to legal accreditation of independent civil society associations;
* Threats against freedom of assembly;

·         Police blocking of the approaches to association headquarters and homes of their leaders;

* Verbal and physical aggressions of human rights defenders and public defamation campaigns against them;
* Retaliations against publicly independent university professors;
* Systematic censorship of newspapers and books;
* Blocking of Internet sites, systematic surveillance of e-mails and telephones;
* Arbitrary denial of authorizations to publish new newspapers and magazines and to create independent broadcasting outlets;
* Lack of a published and transparent system of broadcast licensing;
* Systematic use of torture by police to obtain confessions;
* Use of the pretext of the fight against terrorism to sentence without proof young people following trials international observers have deemed unfair;

* Keeping in jail of more than 600 prisoners of opinion, inhumane and degrading conditions and harassment of those who have finished their prison terms by imposing administrative controls, including banishment to distant locations.

These systematic violations of fundamental freedoms, coupled with the serious dysfunctioning of the judicial system have undermined the rule of law in Tunisia. It is shocking for the Summit to take place in a country with such a deplorable record.  We recall that the participants in the first phase of the WSIS have reaffirmed in their Geneva Declaration of December 2003 the centrality of human rights for the Information Society, most particularly:

* “The universality, indivisibility and interdependence and interrelation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development as enshrined in the Vienna Declaration, as well as tight links between them. We reaffirm also that democracy, sustainable development and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as good governance at all levels are interdependent and mutually reinforcing” (§3)

* “That as the essential foundation of the information society and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (§4)

We regret that the Tunisian government has not respected its commitments to these Declaration in its capacity of host country of the second phase of the WSIS and that it is jeopardizing the chances of success of this Summit by a deliberate policy of massive human rights violations.

We hence consider that the minimal conditions for the holding of this Summit are not met and that the credibility of the United Nations is at stake, as well as that of the international community, not to legitimize practices and policies contrary to its international commitments.

We regret to inform you that if there are no significant improvements in the human rights situation in Tunisia before November 16, we would then need to reconsider the modalities and level of our participation at this Summit.

We, therefore, respectfully request you to dispatch a high representative to Tunisia to review the state of affairs in the host country and for you subsequently to seek Tunisian official conformity with its international human rights commitments.

We look forward to your early reply.

Steve Buckley, President, World Association of Community Radio Broadcasting (AMARC)
Jim Ottaway, Jr., Chairman, World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)
E. Markham Bench, Executive Director, World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)
Chantal Peyer, Comunica-ch

On behalf of the following international civil society entities:
Eric Sottas, Directeur, Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT)
Sean O Siochru, Campaign for Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS)
Karen Banks, Association for Progressive Communication (APC)
Sidi Kaba, President, Federation International des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH).
Aidan White, General Secretary, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Alexis Krikorian, International Publishers Association (IPA)
Guillaume Chenevière, Chairman, World Radio and Television Council
James H. Ottaway, Jr., Chairman, and E. Markham Bench, Executive Director, World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)
Timothy Balding, World Association of Newspapers (WAN)
Gus Hosein, Privacy International, UK
Fatou Jagne Senghor, Article 19
Luckson Chiapare, Executive Director, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Susana Fernandez for WSIS Gender Caucus
Vittorio Bertola, Member of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG)
Karin Karlekar, Freedom House
Rohan Jayasakeera, Index on Censorship
Robert Ménard, General secretary,  Reporters without borders
Andrew Anderson, Deputy Director, Front Line, The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Randy Naylor, General Secretary, World Association of Christian
Communications (WACC)
Jim McDonnell, Director of Advocacy, World Catholic Association for Communication (SIGNIS)
Joanna Arevalo, Third World Majority (TWM)
John D.H. Downing, Director, Global Media Research Center  (Southern Illinois University)
Lisa McLaughlin, on behalf of Union for Democratic Communications
Clemencia Rodriguez for OURMedia
Dr B. Shadrach, Director for South Asia, OneWorld International Foundation
Alejo Miro Quesada, president, and Julio E. Munoz, Executive Director, Inter American Press Association,
Fernando Martins, Brazilian Association of Newspapers – ANJ-Brasil
Paulo Lima, Executive Director, Rede de Informações para o Terceiro Setor (RITS)
Rita Freire, Planeta Porto Alegre and Ciranda Internacional, Brasil
Felix Gutiérrez Matta, Red de comunicaciones indígenas Apachita, La Paz, Bolivia
Roberto Bissio, Executive Director, Institutdo del Tercer Mundo (ITeM), Uruguay
Daniel Pimienta, President, Fundation Redes y Desarrollo (FUNREDES)
Julian Casasbuenas, Colnodo, Colombia
Carlos Alvarez, Wamani, Argentina
Edmundo Vitale, Escuela Latinoamericana de Reds (ESLARED), Venezuela
Olinca Marino, Laneta, Mexico
Rod Macdonell, Executive Director, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Spencer Moore, National Press Club of Canada
Oliver Zielke, Web Community Resource Networks, Canada
Michel Lambert, Alternatives, Canada
Carl Morten Iversen, Norwegian PEN
Rikke Frank Jorgensen, Digital Rights, Denmark
Jane Johnson, Danish United Nations Association (DUNA)
Sjoera Nas, Co-director, Bits of Freedom, Dutch digital civil rights
Meryem Marzouki, President, Imaginons un réseau Internet solidaire (IRIS), France
Jean-Louis Fullsack, President, Coopération Solidarité Développement aux PTT (CSDPTT), France
Ghislaine Glassom Deschaumes, Transeuropeennes, France
Ralf Bendrath, Netzwerk Neue Medien, Germany
Ulrich Remmel, Deutscher-Journalisten-Verband (DJV), Germany
Johannes Schunter, computer scientist, ICONICS Informations- und Computersysteme, Germany
Danièle Lenzin and Roland Kreuzer, Presidents of comedia – the Swiss media union
Olivier Labarthe, Président de la Commission d’information, Fédération genevoise de coopération, Switzerland
Carlo Sommaruga, lawyer and MP, General Secratary Asloca SR, Switzerland
Claudia Padovani, University of Padova & CRIS Campaign, Italie
Andrea Amato, Institut mediterraeen (IMED), Italie
Marco Cappato, Parti Radical, Italie
Liz Probert, GreenNet
Anastasia Roniotes, MIO-ECSDE, Grece
Corina Cepoi, Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
Pavel Antonov, Bluelink, Bulgaria
Bako Mihaly, StrawberryNet, Romania
Danijela Babic, Zamirnet, Croatia
Leandro Navarro, Pangea, Catalunya, Spain
Marise J. R. A. Fonseca, Network of Feminists Women for Gender Equity in Development (GENERA), Spain
Helene Olivan, Institut europeen de la mediterranee (IEMED), Spain
Valentina Pellizzer, UniMondo, Southern Europe
Jose Moises Martin President de la Plateforme Intergouvernemental Euromed
Jean François Courbe, Forum social Mediterreen
Chaffai Abdelhamid, Reseau marocain Euromed gerarda Ventura
Kamel Jendoubi, President, Reseau Euromediterraneen des Droits de l’Homme (REMDH)
Mokhtar Trifi, president, Ligue Tunisienne pour la défense des droits de l’Homme (LTDH)
Sihem Bensedrine, spokesperson, Conseil National pour les Libertés en Tunisie (CNLT)
Radhia Nasraoui, President, Association de Lutte contre la Torture en Tunisie (ALTT)
Lotfi Hajji, president, Syndicat des journalistes tunisiens (SJT)
Naziha Rjiba, deputy president, Observatoire pour la Liberté de Presse, d’Edition et de Création (OLPEC)
Essia Belhassen, coordinatrice SMSI, Association Tunisienne des femmes démocrates (ATFD)
Samir Dilou, deputy president, Association Internationale pour le soutien aux prisonniers politiques (AISPP)
Ali Ben Salem, president, Amicale Nationale des Anciens Résistants (ANAR)
Safwa Aissa, president,Vérité-Action (VA)
Mokhtar Yahyaoui, president, Centre pour l’indépendance de la justice et des Avocats (CIJA)
Jalel Matri, president, Union des Tunisiens en Suisse (UTS)
Mourad Errahib, Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, Maroco
Naim Abou tair, Palestinian NGO (PNGO)
Amir Makhlouf, ITTIJAH (Union of Arab NGO)
Dawoud Hassan, Arab Committee for the Defense of Journalists
Georges Abi Saleh, Plateforme euromed, Liban
Ahida Taleb, Rassemblemeñt Deomcratique libanais des femmes (RDLF)
Ziad Abdessamad, ANND
Pius N. Njawé, Organisation Camerounaise Pour La Liberte De La Presse.
Natasha Primo, WomensNet, South Africa
Sohrab Razzaghi, Iran Civil Society Organizations Training and Research Center (ICTRC)
Parminder Jeet Singh, Director, IT for Change, India
Ahmed Swapan, Executive Director, VOICE, Bangladesh
Kong Sidaroth, Open Forum, Cambodia
Oh, Byoung-il, Jinbonet, South Korea
Al Alegre, Foundation for Media Alternatives, Philippines
Frederick Noronha, Bytesforall, South Asia
John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation, Nigeria
Andrew Garton, c2o, Australia

Marianne Seger, Germany
Lucia Fanini, Italy
Elizabeth Eide, Norway

31 FOE organizations ask UNSG Kofi Annan to change venue of next WSIS summit


31 FOE organizations ask UNSG Kofi Annan to change venue of next WSIS summit

At the recent IFEX AGM in Baku, Azerbaijan, 31 member organizations signed a letter urging UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to move the next session of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), due to take place in Tunisia in November 2005, unless Tunisia makes substantial progress on respect for freedom of expression.  Norwegian PEN was one of the 31 organizations.

Tunisia is one of the major tourist attractions in North Africa with historic traditions dating back more than 2000 years.  Today, the country has a bad reputation regarding freedom of expression.  As an example, in April 2004 a group of young men were convicted of «creating a gang to terrorise people», «violence against individuals with the intent to terrorise, «holding unauthorised meetings», «theft and attemted theft», «preparing explosive materials» and «unauthorised possession of substances intended for making explosive devices.»  What these eight young men had done, was to download home-pages through the Internet.  At the time of the arrests, the police only confiscated a tube of glue and a few CD-ROMs, which were the only evidence to support the allegation of «making explosives».  Verdict: Up to 26 years in prison.  Five of the defendants filed complaints alleging torture, but the court refused to allow medical examination.

Norwegian PEN president Kjell Olaf Jensen and secretary general Carl Morten Iversen met today with the Tunisian ambassador to Norway, the former journalist Mokhtar Chaouachi, voicing their concern about the trials.  The ambassador informed us that the sentences had been reduced to 13 years upon appeal, a fact that was not very reassuring for Norwegian PEN.

Norwegian PEN also drew the ambassadors attention to a demonstration outside the Tunisian state broadcasting company in Tunis on 27. March 2004, which was soon stopped by the police.  The theme of the demonstration was the right to free expression, and ambassador Chaouachi informed us that the reason it was stopped was the fear of terrorist attacs during the Arab Summit taking place in Tunis at the same time.  When confronted by the fact that a similar demonstration was dispersed by Tunisian security forces on 19. February, with no Arab Summit taking place in Tunis, the ambassador had no reply.

Ambassador Chaouachi also stressed the fact that a recent preparatory committee meeting of WSIS 2 in Hammamet, Tunisia (24. – 26. June 2004) had been carried out without any  problems whatsoever.  Norwegian PEN then informed the ambassador that, according to an internal report from one of the participants at the conference, getting the floor in order to speak was  close to impossible and the members of the civil society groups present at the meeting, discouraged by the hopeless conditions, had contemplated leaving the meeting altogether.  The fact that the upcoming WSIS prepcom meetings are scheduled for Geneva, and not for Tunisia, also indicates that the situation in Hammamet was not the way Tunisian authorities chose to describe it.

On 17.February this year, Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali met with U.S. president George W. Bush in Washington D.C.  President Bush used the occasion to remind his colleague about «the necessity for a free and vibrant press and an open political process».  According to ambassador Chaouachi, this episode took place because president Bush, like western media in general, receive biased information about Tunisia.

In the fall of 2003, Tunisian president Ben Ali was awarded the Golden Pen of Press Freedom from the Tunisian Journalists´ Association.  As a reaction, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) announced the Tunisian group´s suspension and provisional expulsion from membership in the IFJ.

13. July 2004