E. Schoulgin om tyrkisk statsparanoia

Tyrkiarapport, vinteren 2006

 

Denne rapporten kommer ikke til å konsentrere seg om hver enkelt rettsak i Tyrkia de seneste månedene, selv om de viktigste vil bli nevnt, men vil ta for seg situasjonen for ytringsfriheten i landet rent generelt, slik jeg ser den. Den vil peke på noen årsaker og virkninger jeg mener er viktige for å forstå hva som har skjedd, hva som skjer, og hva som sansynligvis kommer til å skje i den nærmere framtid om ikke avgjørende forandringer i lovverket og i tyrkiske myndigheters innstilling til sensur og ytringsfrihet finner sted.

Norsk PEN har i lengre tid tatt på seg oppgaven å bevitne rettsaker i Tyrkia. Det har dreiet seg om tiltaler mot forfattere, journalister og forleggere. I samtlige tilfeller har rettsapparatet åpnet disse sakene i strid med de internasjonale avtaler landet har undertegnet til forsvar for ytringsfriheten.

På 1990-tallet var det ikke uvanlig at skribenter og forleggere ble dømt til lange fengselstraffer. Flere av dem ble Norsk PENs æresmedlemmer.   Personer vi påtok oss å støtte spesielt gjennom underskriftkampanjer, lobbyvirksomhet hos egne myndigheter, presseuttalelser og besøk på den tyrkiske ambassaden i Oslo. Vi begynte også så smått å reise til Istanbul og Ankara for å protestere overfor tyrkiske myndigheter og forsøke å komme inn i fengslene for å treffe «våre» fanger. Straffer på over 20 år var ikke uvanlige. I tillegg ble straffene forlenget alt ettersom fangene skrev nye artikler og bøker med kontroversielt innhold. Som eksempler kan jeg nevne noen navn mange vil dra kjensel på: Ismail Besikci, Esber Yagmurereli, Fikret Baskaya og Haluk Gerger, samt ekteparet Aysanur og Ragip Zarakolu.

Med det nye millenniet, våpenhvilen med det kurdiske arbeiderpartiet PKK, avspenningen i Sydøstanatolia og Tyrkias stigende interesse for EU, forandret situasjonen seg uten tvil til det bedre, men bedre er lang fra godt nok. Man avskaffet dødsstraffen – også for å unngå å gjøre PKK lederen Öscalan til martyr – og samtidig forandret man en rekke sikkerhetslover med det resultat at strafferammene ble mildere. For å tekkes EUs krav snekret man på lovverket. Man fjernet et antall  paragrafer, og de nye man erstattet dem med fikk et mer tiltalende utseende, men var samtidig forvirrende og mangetydige, vel egnet til å brukes etter forgodtbefinnende, og det reelle innholdet ble i visse tilfeller verre enn de gamle sett med ytringsfrihetens briller.

Nå hadde PEN opparbeidet en vane med å bevitne rettsaker der våre kolleger sto tiltalt så ofte det var økonomisk mulig, og Norsk PEN kom til å tilhøre dem som oftest befant seg i Tyrkia. Selv om den offentlige meningen slo fast at disse besøkene ikke hadde noen innvirkning på rettsprosessene, kunne vi med tiden vise til at de tiltalte skjelden eller aldri ble felt når vi var nærværende, i alle fall ikke i siste instanse. Derimot utvidet man prosessenes tidsrammer og fikk vanen å utsette domsavgjørelsene  i det uendelige, noe som uten tvil kan betegnes som strategisk og samtidig resulterte i psykiske lidelser for de anklagete.

Med den allmenne tilspissingen av motsetningene i verden, som en følge dels av den såkalte krigen mot terror, muslimske bevegelsers framrykkede posisjoner og nasjonalismens oppblomstring – ikke minst i Tyrkia, har jeg kunnet konstatere at det som noen år rundt millennieskiftet så ut som en oppmykning, noe som liknet en ærlig ment tilpasningsprosess til EUs standard på menneskerettighetsfronten, har stagnert. Under samtaler med EUs kommisær i Ankara, Hansjürg Kretschmer 2. og 4. mars 2005 fastslo denne at stemningen nå hadde vendt og at tilpassningsprosessen i realiteten hadde mistet enhver vind i seglene. Det man nå bedrev i Ankara var den vanlige tykiske diplomatdansen, en slags dervishpiruetter i slow motion der svimmelheten tiltok, men ingen framskritt var å spore.

Pr. i dag arbeider PEN mer eller mindre aktivt med 40 rettsaker rettet mot det skrevne ordet. Det fulle antall saker er vanskelig å bestemme da flere av dem er sammensatte prosesser der de anklagete har en voldelig fortid som gjør det nødvendig for PEN å innta en avventende holdning.  Vi har vært i Tyrkia store deler av februar og kunnet konstatere at ettervikningene etter nedleggelsen av saken mot Orhan Pamuk ikke har latt vente på seg. For undertegnete framstår det som hevet over tvil at man nå vil statuere et eksempel, at man vil vise at Orhan Pamuk-saken var en ettergivelse for et – slik Ankara ser det – utidig trykk fra EU, men at den ikke får noen konsekvenser for den praksis man nå iherdig utøver.

Fra 1. til 17. februar dekket vi hele 16 rettsaker mot journalister, forleggere og forfattere, mange av dem med en rekke andre tiltaler mot seg parallelt. Ragip Zarakolu, som har tilbrakt en større del av sin tid fra begynnelsen av 1970-årene til i dag i landets forkjellige domstoler, har nå tre, forleggeren Fathi Tas hos Aram publishers har 20, mens rekorden innehas av dagsavisen Özgšr Gündem som pr. i dag kan regne til 411!

Den nydannete ultranasjonalistiske advokatforeningen som i dag teller ca. 400 medlemmer, og som har gjort det til sin oppgave å kreve at statsadvokatene starter rettsaker nær sagt av hvilke grunner som helst – det var den som sto bak rettsaken mot Orhan Pamuk – fikk en domstol i Istanbul til å åpne en sak mot fem journalister fra de kjente mainstream avisene Radikal og Milliet. Tiltalen gikk ut på at journalistene hadde gjort seg skyldige i forsøk på å påvirke en rettsprosess. Hvordan?  Jo, en domstol hadde i 2005 forbudt Bilgeuniversitetet i Istanbul å holde et seminar om massakeren på armenere i 1915. Denne beslutningen hadde de kritisert. At det er vanskelig å påvirke en rettsak som allerede er avgjort var ikke et argument som kunne trenge igjennom til disse herrer som valgte å stille i retten under den innledende runden mot de fem og holde et sånt lurveleven at deres ledere til slutt ble kastet ut av politiet under tumultuariske scener.

Hvorfor?

I Tyrkia holder man seg med tabuer. En rekke områder av landets samfundsliv og historie er minelagte områder. Kritikk oppfattes som sjikane og er derfor straffbart. Hvis man omtaler landsfaderen Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) i forkleinende ordelag, kritiserer de væpnede styrker og deres offiserer eller regjeringen, taler for minoritetenes rettigheter eller ymter frampå at Tyrkia muligens kunne innta en mindre steil holdning i Kyprosspørsmålet, er sjansene for å havne i en av landets utallige domstoler overhengende. At man utgir bøker skrevet av utlendinger er ingen formildende omstendighet, ei heller om man publiserer dagbøker forfattet for snart 100 år siden der forfatteren har vært øyenvitne til ugjerninger begått av tyrkere lenge før den Tyrkiske republikken så dagens lys. En kurdisk forfatter sammenstilte en rekke artikler han hadde  skrevet der han med rikt fotomateriale dokumenterte det tyrkiske flyvåpnets bombing av 200 landsbyer i Sydøstanatolia under borgerkrigen på 1980- og 90-tallet (i alt bombet man over 5000 landsbyer).  Dette risikerer han nå opp til 6 års fengsel for.  Ingen fornekter i dag at man bombet disse landsbyene. Ingen gjorde noe vesen av artiklene, men å samle dem mellom to permer og vise ugjerningene, det er straffbart.

En forfatter spurte meg i fjor om jeg hadde tenkt over hvorfor det var så få kriminalromaner skrevet av tyrkiske forfattere. På mitt nektende svar sa han: Her i landet er det ingen som tør å gjøre for eksempel en lege, en advokat, en bankmann, en bonde eller en militær til morder, da tolkes det uvegelig slik at forfatteren mener at alle innen vedkommendes yrkesgruppe er mordere, og han havner høyst sansynlig i rettsalen.

Det hersker noe jeg vil betegne som statsparanoia i Tyrkia

Den anerkjente advokaten Fikret Ilkiz sier det slik: «Vår straffelov er pr. i dag en jungel ikke engang de mest garvede av oss kan trenge igjennom. Mange av paragrafene motsier hverandre, en del har mistet enhver mening fordi de viser til andre paragrafer som er strøket eller forandret. Det hele har bare en hensikt, og det er å gjøre vårt rettsystem til et redskap for dem som sitter med makten. Selvfølgelig er det opp til hver enkelt statsadvokat å nekte eller godta et forlegg om å åpne en sak. De som saksøker vet godt hvor de notorisk reaksjonære statsadvokatene befinner seg og henvender seg til dem. Dermed får vi utallige saker på halsen som ender med saksnedleggelse, i visse tilfeller med frifinnelse. Dette påfører de anklagede store plager og vansker og vårt rettsapparat emorme kostnader og en tung arbeidsbyrde. Ofte går både dommere og advokater vill i lovjungelen og selvmotsigende, iblant totalt meningsløse dommer, kan bli utferdiget.  Det behøves en fullstendig gjennomgang og revisjon av hele vår straffelov. Det hjelper ikke å flikke litt her og stryke litt der.»

Den sittende regjeringen har vist seg ute av stand til å tøyle de kreftene i Tyrkia som slåss for å bevare sine maktposisjoner og derfor motsetter seg landets tilnærmming til EU. Vi snakker her om store deler av det militære apparatet, deler av rettsapparatet og grupper blant advokatene, samt de delene av storfinansen som livnærer seg på den blomstrende korrupsjonen.  I tillegg kommer konservative nasjonalister som vil bevare Tyrkia tyrkisk (og dem er det mange av) samt islamister av ulike avskyggninger som slåss for en tilnærming til den muslimske verden. Disse gruppene vinner raskt i styrke – ikke minst som en følge av USA og Englands krig mot Irak og støtten til Israel – men er fremdeles ikke avgjørende. I det siste har det også vist seg at regjeringen ikke har tatt høyde for utviklingen i Sydøstanatolia og blant den store kurdiske minoriteten på ca. 12 millioner som nå igjen holder på å miste tålmodigheten.

Tyrkia lider under en dramatisk skjevfordelig av godene, der nettopp Sydøstanatolia sakker mer og mer akterut i utviklingen og for lengst har sunket ned i armod og i en håpløst uutviklet struktur der skolevesen, helsevesen og rettsvesen befinner seg på et like primitivt nivå.

Slik jeg ser det kommer også vi i PEN til å få stadig mer å gjøre i Tyrkia. For med sin kultur, sin strategiske posisjon mellom øst og vest, nord og syd, sine ukuelige intellektuelle og opposisjonelle og sin lange motstandskamp mot undertrykkelsen fra både militære og sivile myndigheter, ser jeg få land det er viktigere å gi fortsatt støtte til.

Eugene Schoulgin

Oslo 4. april – 2006

World Summit on the Information Society

World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Rapport fra møtene i Tunis, 15. – 19. november 2005

 

Bakgrunn – om TMG og WSIS
World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) er et todelt FN-toppmøte om kontroll og regulering av internett.  Fase en fant sted i Geneve i desember 2003 og det ble besluttet at fase to skulle finne sted i Tunis i november 2005.

Det er den Internasjonale Telekommunikasjonsunionen (ITU) som er teknisk operatør for WSIS og som har fattet beslutningene om møtesteder.  I FN-systemet fordeles denne type større, todelte møter mellom «nord» og «sør»-land.  Hvorfor Afrika ble valgt vites ikke, men etter det vi kjenner til samlet de afrikanske landene seg om Tunisia som vertsland for fase to.

Organisasjonene i IFEX ble kjent med situasjonen på sitt siste årsmøte i Baku, Azerbaijan, i juni 2004 og over 30 medlemmer protesterte på valget av Tunisia i et brev til FNs generalsekretær Kofi Annan.  Samtidig besluttet man å danne et løst nettverk innenfor IFEX, Tunisian Monitoring Group (TMG).  Norsk PEN og 13 andre ytringsfrihetsorganisasjoner er med i TMG.

I løpet av høsten 2004 planla TMG den første delegasjonsreisen til Tunisia i januar 2005.  Undertegnede var med i delegasjonen som var i Tunisia i en snau uke.  En rapport fra denne delegasjonen, «Tunisia – Freedom of Expression under Siege», ble lansert i Geneve i februar og er tilgjengelig på Norsk PENs hjemmesider.  På www.ifex.org finnes det også en egen TMG-side (ikon øverst t.h.) der rapporter, pressemeldinger og andre uttalelser er samlet.

31. mars arrangerte Norsk og International PEN i samarbeid med den Internasjonale Forleggerforeningen (IPA) et seminar om forholdene i Tunisia i forbindelse med FNs MR-kommisjons sesjoner i Geneve.  Kjell Olaf Jensen, Elisabet Middelthon og undertegnede representerte Norsk PEN.

Delegasjonsreise nr. to fant sted i forbindelse med World Press Freedom Day 3. mai.  Rapporten ble da lansert på arabisk.  Norsk PEN deltok ikke på denne reisen, men markerte dagen med et arrangement i Oslo der vi, i samarbeid med UNESCO-kommisjonen og Norsk Journalistlag, hentet den tunisiske journalisten, redaktøren og MR-forkjemperen Sihem Bensedrine til Norge.  I samme forbindelse fikk undertegnede en kronikk om situasjonen i Tunisia på trykk i Klassekampen.

Delegasjonsreise nr. tre fant sted i begynnelsen av september.  Elisabeth Eide og undertegnede deltok for Norsk PEN.  En rapport fra denne reisen, «Freedom of Expression in Tunisia – the Siege Intensifies», ble lansert under et WSIS-forberedende møte, det såkalte Prepcom 3, i Geneve sent samme måned og er også tilgjengelig på nevnte hjemmesider.  I forbindelse med lanseringen ble det arrangert en pressekonferanse og et to timers seminar med deltagelse fra tunisiske ytringsfrihets- og menneskerettighetsorganisasjoner og TMG.  Undertegnede representerte Norsk PEN og satt i et panel under seminaret.

Senere i høst fikk Eide og Iversen en kronikk på trykk i Dagbladet.  Eide fikk dessuten artikler på trykk i Morgenbladet, Aftenposten og Journalisten og Iversen er ved flere anledninger blitt intervjuet i Kulturnytt, sist i forbindelse med et Tunisia-seminar som ble arrangert på MR-huset 8. november.  Eide hadde også et innslag i Kulturnytts TV-sending.
Selve WSIS fant sted i Tunis 16. – 18. november.  Norsk PENs delegasjon besto av Elisabet Middelthon, Asbjørn Øverås og undertegnede.

Norsk PENs TMG-arbeid, inklusive seminaret i Geneve  31. mars,  er blitt finansiert gjennom særskilt støtte fra Fritt Ord og Kopinor.  De totale utgiftene er blitt noe høyere enn opprinnelig budsjettert, primært fordi hotellene i og rundt Tunis skrudde opp prisene med opptil det tre-dobbelte i forbindelse med konferansen.

Hva skjedde i forkant av WSIS
Boltanski-episoden
I rapporten som ble skrevet i forbindelse med observasjonsreisen i september, konkluderes det at få, om noen, forbedringer har funnet sted for ytringsfriheten i Tunisia siden februar-rapporten ble publisert.  Den tunisiske regjeringen hadde m.a.o. ikke lyttet til noen av de anbefalingene og forslagene som hadde kommet fra TMG og en hel rekke andre organisasjoner fra det sivile samfunn.

I dagene før WSIS spisset denne situasjonen seg ytterligere.  Fredag 11. november ble journalisten Christophe Boltanski fra den franske avisen Libération slått ned av fire menn like ved sitt hotell, som lå i den såkalte ambassade-området i Tunis.  Dagen før hadde Boltanski publisert en meget kritisk artikkel, der han beskrev hvordan folk som hadde demonstrert i solidaritet med de syv sultestreikende MR-aktivistene (se nedenfor), var blitt angrepet og slått av sivilkledd politi.

Boltanski ble angrepet med pepper-spray og slått.  Uniformert politi, som patruljerte ved hotellet og den nærliggende tsjekkiske ambassaden, hadde ignorert hans rop om hjelp, selv etter at han klarte å komme seg inn på selve hotellet, blodig og forslått og med ødelagte klær.  Han måtte sy flere sting og returnerte dagen etter til Paris.

Goethe-instituttet
Samme kveld som vi ankom, skulle en rekke organisasjoner fra det sivile samfunn holde et forberedende møte på Goethe Instituttet i Tunis.  De ble hindret av sivilt politi i å komme inn på instituttet.  De kontaktet da den tyske ambassadøren og møtte ham på en restaurant i nærheten.  Etter kort tid kom sivilkledd politi inn på restauranten og ga beskjed til eieren om at han måtte stoppe møtet.  Alternativet var at han ville miste retten til å drive restaurant.  Dette er den første episoden som også har inkludert trakassering av andre lands diplomater.

Flere andre episoder fant sted i dagene før WSIS.  Den mest alvorlige var angrepet på lederen for Den tunisiske MR-ligaen (LTDH), Mokhtar Trifi.  En mer omfattende oversikt over uttalelser fra IFEX-medlemmer i forbindelse med disse overgrepene finnes på http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg/alerts.html.

Tirsdag
Badging
Norsk PENs delegasjon ankom Tunis kl 23.45 den 14. november.  Dagen etter havnet vi midt i morgenkøen på «badging»-senteret og sto i kø ca. halvannen time for å få våre identitetskort.  Det vi ikke var klar over var at disse kun ga adgang til messe- og møterommene og kun i begrenset omfang til plenumssalen og ikke til pressesenteret der pressekonferansene fant sted.  Mer om dette nedenfor.

Avlyst TMG-seminar
Vi ankom avtalt møterom ca. 30 min. i forkant av et annonsert TMG-seminar der både Middelthon og Iversen skulle sitte i panel og holde innlegg.  Pga. av hendelsene i dagene før vi ankom, beskrevet ovenfor, hadde våre kolleger Steve Buckley og Alexis Krikorian besluttet å avlyse seminaret og i stedet holde en pressekonferanse der følgende uttalelse ble presentert:

As the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS Tunis, 16-18 November 2005) is about to open, there has been a series of serious  incidents against journalists and human rights activists. Most shocking was the attack against French journalist Christophe Boltanski on Friday, 11. November. Among other events, journalists and civil society activists planning a Citizens’ Summit on the Information Society were assaulted, abused and detained briefly yesterday as they attempted to hold a preparatory meeting at the Goethe Institute in Tunis.

Under these circumstances, International Freedom of Expression Exchange’s Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) members have come to the conclusion that they cannot continue with an event on freedom of expression planned for today under the auspices of the UN WSIS. The TMG instead will take the opportunity to use this platform to protest in the strongest possible terms this abuse against journalists and freedom of expression.

These serious incidents also illustrate that concerns about holding a United  Nations’  Summit dealing with communication and freedom of expression in such a country as Tunisia were justified. Assaults against human rights activists and journalists in the run up to the opening of the World Summit on Information Society had long been predicted by the TMG. The second report of the TMG, entitled: «Freedom of expression in Tunisia: The Siege Intensifies» (www.campaigns.ifex.org/tmg) was released in September 2005 following the third fact-finding mission of the Group to the country. It stated that Tunisia was «not an appropriate place to hold a World Summit on the Information Society», a Summit dealing with communication and freedom of expression.

The TMG requests that the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as a matter of urgency call on the Tunisian authorities to end attacks on civil society and freedom of expression not only during this Summit, but beyond.

The TMG also urges Kofi Annan to initiate an Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights special investigation into the occurrences around the WSIS.

Første besøk hos sultestreikende
Senere på dagen avla vi et første besøk hos de syv sultestreikende MR-aktivistene i sentrum av Tunis sammen med andre TMGere.  De holdt til i en liten kombinert leilighet og advokatkontor og folk (en god del av dem tunisere) sto i kø i den trange oppgangen for å få møte streikerne og uttrykke sin støtte.  Det ble foretatt en kort presentasjonsrunde og TMG uttrykte sin kollektive støtte og ga samtidig uttrykk for betydningen av å følge situasjonen i Tunisia etter at WSIS var over.

De syv er:
Lotfi Hajji, 43, leder for Union of Tunisian Journalists (SJT)
Mokhtar Yahyaoui, 53, dommer og leder for Tunisian Committee for Judicial Independence
Néjib Chabbi, 62, generalsekretær, Democratic Progressive Party (PDP)
Mohamed Nouri, 66, jurist og leder for International Association for the Support of Political Prisoners (AISPP)
Samir Dilou, 39, jurist og tidligere politisk fange
Ayachi Hammami, 46, jursit og generalsekretær for Tunis-avdelingen til Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH)
Hamma Hammami, 53, talsmann for the Tunisian Communist and Workers Party (PSOT).
Senere på kvelden snakket jeg både med Aftenposten og Kulturnytt om situasjonen.

Onsdag 16. november
KRAM-senteret
KRAM-senteret var åstedet for selve toppmøtet og parallelle seminarer og vi møtte øvrige TMG-organisasjoner på ett av møterommene i den lille avdelingen reservert for «the civil society».  Det ble diskutert og arbeidet på forskjellige uttalelser i forbindelse med situasjonen generelt og særlig problemene med å arrangere et paralellt CSIS – Citizens Summit on the Information Society.  Kl 16.00 var det berammet et møte hos LTDH – League Tunisienne des Droits des Hommes, som er den eldste, «godkjente», MR-organisasjonen i Tunisia og den som ble forhindret i å arrangere sin årlige kongress når TMG besøkte Tunisia i september.

Vi drøftet også saken til advokat Mohammed Abou som ble arrestert 1. mars 2005 i Tunis for å ha uttrykket seg kritisk på internett om tortur i Tunisia. Han fikk en dom på tre og et halvt år. Den 9. april ble Abbou forflyttet fra Tunis til fengselet i Kef.  Norsk PEN møtte Madame Abbou som er meget bekymret for sin manns helsse. Vi ønsker å oppta Mohammed Abbou som æresmedlem i Norsk PENs  Komité for fengslede forfattere (WiPC) og å følge opp hans sak spesielt.

Spontanmøte hos LTDH
LTDHs møtelokale var sprengt da tunisiske aktivister og besøkende delegasjoner og enkeltpersoner, inklusive fredsprisvinner Shirin Ebadi, FNs spesialrapportør på ytringsfrihet Ambeyi Ligabo, parlamentarikere fra EU og Italia, samt internasjonale medier, var samlet til møtet som kom i gang kl 17.00.  På møtet, som ble ledet av LTDHs president Mokthar Trifi, ble det gitt bakgfrunnsinformasjon og en rekke støtteerklæringer.  Stemningen var tidvis høy og på ett tidspunkt annonserte Trifi at det var dette møtet som var den egentlige starten på CSIS, noe som trolig ble sagt delvis som en spøk og som førte til uenighet i TMG om hvorvidt CSIS faktisk hadde funnet sted.  I en direkte appell til de syv sultestreikerne, oppfordret Ebadi og flere til å stoppe sultestreiken og oppfordret alle tilstedeværende til å bidra til å overbringe denne meldingen personlig neste morgen.

Det var oppsiktsvekkende fritt for sivilt politi da vi ankom møtelokalene og det var tydeligvis ingen som var blitt hindret i å delta, men på deler av spaserturen tilbake til Tunis sentrum hadde vi en politibil i gangfart rett bak oss.

Hjemmebesøk hos sultestreikende kvinner
På slutten av LTDH- møte ble vi kontaktet av Sihem Bensedrine. Hun ønsket å ha med en liten gruppe utlendinger til et privat hjem. Her sultestreiket en mor og hennes 17-årige datter til støtte for far og ektemann som var blitt fengslet i januar. Asbjørn Øverås var norsk representant. Faren som for 15 år siden var blitt dømt in absentia for å tilhøre et ulovlig muslimsk parti, hadde meldt seg i år og fått en dom på seks år. Meldingen var at de ville ha oss til å be datteren om å avslutte sultestreik, som i følge våre venner snart hadde vart i fjorten dager uten legetilsyn. Datteren virket apatisk og ga uttrykk for at hun ikke maktet å stoppe lenger. Det ble allikevel ringt etter sykebil mens vi var der og datteren godtok etter hva vi forsto dagen etter, å motta næring intravenøst.

Torsdag 17. november
Møte nr. to m/sultestreikerne, Ebadi, etc.
Shirin Ebadi hadde oppfordret alle de tilstedeværende på møtet hos LTDH til å besøke de sju sultestreikende dagen etter. Kort tid etter klokka ni var lokalene fullstappet av tunisiere, observatører og journalister. Oppfordringen om å avslutte sultestreiken ble lest opp og det ble svart at avgjørelsen ville bli offentliggjort på en pressekonferanse dagen etter. Stemningen var til å ta og føle på. På mange måter bør det første møtet hos LTDH og de to følgende møtene hos de sju sultestreikende sees i en sammenheng. Øverås var på alle tre og stemningen steg blant tunisierne fra gang til gang, fram til de sto ute på gata og sang og ropte, omringet av væpnet politi og et hav av sivile spanere.  På godt og vondt er det ikke tvil om at de stadig gikk lenger overfor myndighetene fordi det var så mange utlendinger til stede. Dette gjør det bare mer vesentlig å følge med på hva som skjer videre.

Møte med den norske delegasjonen
Mens Øverås besøkte de sultestreikende, forberedte vi andre oss på et møte med den norske delegasjonen ledet av statssekretær Raymond Johansen.  Planen for dagen var å delta på et EU-seminar om ytringsfrihet på KRAM-senteret tidlig på ettermiddagen, men møtet med UDs delegasjon skulle finne sted på et hotell i nærheten av vårt (nord for Tunis) og da møtet ble berammet til kl 17.00 ble det ikke nok tid til å dra inn til senteret (Alexis Krikorian overvar deler av dette seminaret for TMG).  Vi fikk presentert Norsk PENs delegasjon og TMGs bekymringer før møtet gikk over til mer tekniske drøftelser der særlig Post- og Teletilsynet og Samferdselsdepartementet var på banen og der det ble uttrykt optimisme i forhold til et forslag til slutt-tekst der USA ikke lenger skal ha full kontroll på internett.  Det var enighet om at teksten, hvis den ble endelig vedtatt, sendte positive signaler selv om det var noe uenighet om hvordan den eventuelt kunne bli tolket av de involverte parter.

Vi fikk også hilst på den nye, norske ambassadøren som ga et positivt inntrykk.  Vi fikk også hyggelig tilbakemelding fra en UD-ansatt i den faste delegasjonen i Geneve som betraktet vårt Tunsia-arbeid som uvurderlig og sa at våre rapporter og innspill hadde vært til stor nytte for både UD og delegasjonens arbeid.

Planlagt møte med British Council og omfattende drosjeturer – bomtur
I følge våre kolleger i TMG hadde British Council annonsert et møte kl 18.00 samme kveld for å forsøke å følge opp møtet på Goetheinstituttet som var blitt hindret av sivilt politi tidligere samme uke.  Vi ankom adressen vi hadde fått oppgitt ca. 18.30 og fikk beskjed av en kvinne i oppgangen at møtet var flyttet til en ny adresse «like rundt hjørnet».  Dette viste seg ikke å stemme, men ved henvendelse til kollega Alexis Krikorian fikk vi oppgitt nok en adresse til EU-kommisjonens ambassade utenfor sentrum.  Midt opp i dette måtte Iversen være tilgjengelig for et telefonintervju med NRK-Dagsnytt sammen med Raymond Johansen.  Da vi endelig var i nærheten av EU-ambassaden (som drosjesjåføren – i tråd med tunisiske drosjesjåførers generelle stedsans – aldri fant fram til) var møtet ferdig og vi møtte Alexis og TMG-leder Steve Buckley inne i Tunis for å oppsummere og skrive utkast til en pressemelding som skulle være klar til en avsluttende pressekonferanse dagen etter.  Uttalelsen ligger på våre hjemmesider på denne lenken: http://www.norskpen.no/pen/Never%20again.html

Fredag
Tredje møte med sultestreikerne: Pressekonferanse og demonstrasjoner
Stemningen var løftet i lokalene til de sultestreikende da de annonserte slutt på streiken fredag morgen.  Det meste foregikk på fransk og arabisk og igjen ble det understreket at de ikke hadde villet sette liv i fare og at de nå hadde oppnådd å få stor oppmerksomhet om sine krav: a. Ytringsfrihet b. Organisasjonsfrihet c. Løslatelse av de politiske fangene. De ønsket nå å fortsette kampen i form av en nasjonal komité bestående av de sultestreikende og støttekomiteen for å prøve å komme fram til det de kalte «un smic démocratique» som vel må kunne betegnes som et slags «demoktaisk minimumskrav». Hvis dette gikk ville de gå videre sammen og søke dialog med regimet. Allerede på dette tidspunktet tegnet det seg noen skyer på himmelen da en av de sultestreikende og talsmann for kommunistpartiet bl.a. understreket at dette innebar likhet mellom kvinner og menn, at politikken ikke interfererte i religionen men at religionen heller ikke skulle blande seg i politikken. Stemningen var allikevel høy og dette er vel også et arbeid som bør støttes moralsk framover.

Etter hvert som pressekonferansen ble avrundet, samlet stadig flere deltagere og representanter for tunisiske og internasjonale organisasjoner seg i gaten utenfor og det ble sunget og ropt slagord.  Oppbud av sivilt og uniformert politi var stort, men det kom ikke til alvorlige sammenstøt i den ca. halvtimen vi observerte og fotograferte sammen med representanter for Norsk Bibliotekforening, som også var med i UDs delegasjon.

Etter hvert viste også et par av de sultestreikende seg og en av dem kom ut på gaten og ble ført bort for legetilsyn under høye jubelrop.  Vi trakk oss uhindret tilbake.

KRAM: plenumssalen og tre pressekonferanser
Etter et kort besøk i plenumssalen (som var enorm) der avdelingen for avsluttende takketaler var i gang, klarte vi å snike oss inn på en annonsert pressekonferanse for det sivile samfunn (CSIS).  Tilgang var normalt forbeholdt presse og deltagere i panel, men vi klarte å komme oss inn ved å henvise til TMGs uttalelse som vi hevdet å være medforfattere til og etter litt om og menn kom det en hyggelig dame og hjalp oss.

Siden vi ikke regnet med å slippe inn igjen hvis vi gikk ut, ble vi sittende gjennom en avsluttende pressekonferanse før Steve Buckley og Meryem Marzouki, som representanter (leder og nestleder) for et løst nettverk av organisasjoner fra det sivile samfunn, orienterte om problemene med å arrangere et parallellt CSIS og Steve leste opp uttalelsen fra TMG.  På spørsmål fra salen fra en særdeles regimetro journalist om hva som hadde forhindret CSIS, forklarte Marzouki at man hadde bestilt og betalt for møtesal på et sentralt Tunis hotell da man plutselig fikk beskjed om at hotellet allikevel ikke kunne arrangere møtene.

Denne pressekonferansen ble etterfulgt av en med Shirin Ebadi.  Her er et lite utdrag av spørsmål og svar:

Q:    How do you consider the situation at the Summit and in Tunisia?
A:    I learnt that certain difficulties had arisen i the Civil Society. I have taken part in three meetings on human rights and visited individuals ha had started a hunger strike. I saw that many journalists were present at this meeting. A Summit is a venue where the people are present.
Q:    Do you feel that human righs and freedom would be stronger if the Western World assisted in the development of human rights?  Do you not feel that you need to assist the western critics to continue to reduce this digital divide?
A:    It is necessary to reduce this digital divide, and it could be done. There are military budgets much greater than the sum it would cost to abolish the digital divide. Unfortunatley som states do not want to reduce the digital divide because they want to remain their people in poverty. It is easier to govern poor people. Furthermore, industrial countreis have a duty to help less developed countries. …  Unfortunately, many leaders want to keep their population in ignorance, because they can plot maintain dominance.
Q:    What do you think of the situation in the Middle East
A:    Middle East is not something standardized or uniform. There is one thing: The struggle gainst terrorism has erected barriers to freedom and human rights.

Lørdag
Lørdag morgen var vi til stede på en avsluttende pressekonferanse hos Amnesty lokale avdeling.  Amnesty Tunisia, som har fått godkjentstempel av myndighetene, får ikke lov til å uttale seg om lokale saker.  Amnesty International i London hadde vært på banen ved flere anledninger før og under WSIS og skrevet flere brev til tunisiske myndigheter, blant annet ett etter episoden med Goetheinstituttet, der de oppfordret Tunsisias president til å stanse trakasseringen av lokale og internasjonale MR-forkjempere slik at de kunne ha et møte.  Dette brevet ble sendt i forkant av møtet hos LTDH og kan ha hatt en viss effekt, skjønt på dette tidspunktet hadde også EU-landene og internasjonale medier begynt å våkne for alvor.

Avsluttende kommentarer
Arbeidet i TMG var opprinnelig planlagt til å vare i ca. seks måneder etter gjennomføringen av WSIS.  Det synes imidlertid klart at det nå er viktigere enn noen gang å opprettholde overvåkingen av situasjonen i Tunisia.  Det mest positive som skjedde i ukene før, samt under selve konferansen, var at situasjonen kom på dagsorden både blant europeiske og andre lands parlamentarikere og i internasjonale medier.  Flere parlamentarikere som var til stede under WSIS uttalte at de ikke var klar over hvor alvorlig situasjonen var og flere internasjonale presse- og medieoranisasjoner har protestert på forholdene generelt og særlig den behandlingen de fikk, i brev både til FN og til tunisiske myndigheter.

Deler av TMG vil være samlet i forbindelse med IFEX kommende årsmøte i Brüssel i slutten av februar 2006.  Vi har allerede drøftet muligheten for å sende en mindre delegasjon til Tunisia i forkant av møtet, men dette vil bli avgjort på en telefonkonferanse på nyåret.

Uansett – en bred koalisjon i form av et nettverk av parlamentarikere, presse-, ytringsfrihets og menneskerettighetsorganisasjoner og andre organisasjoner fra det sivile samfunn, bør snarest finne sammen slik at man i felleskap kan opprettholde overvåkingen, gjennom å besøke landet med jevne mellomrom og skrive rapporter til FN og egne lands myndigeter.  Den største frykten våre tunisiske kolleger (og etter hvert venner) hadde når vi møtte dem i november, var frykten for hva som ville skje når lysene ble slukket etter WSIS.  Nå som situasjonen omsider er blitt kjent både i internasjonale medier og blant politikere i en lang rekke land, er det viktigere enn noen gang at dette arbeidet fortsetter.

Oslo, 6. desember 2005
På vegne av WSIS-delegasjonen

Carl Morten Iversen

Tunisia, september 2005

Report of the Tunisia Monitoring Group on the eve of WSIS Tunis 2005. Freedom of Expression in Tunisia: The Siege Intensifies

 

September 2005

CONTENTS:

A.    Introduction                                p. 3

B.    Facts on the ground

1. Prisoners of opinion                            p. 5
2. Internet blocking                                p. 7
3. Censorship of books                          p. 8
4. Independent organisations                   p. 9
5. Journalists and dissidents                    p. 12
6. Broadcast pluralism                            p. 14
7. Press freedom                                    p. 15
8. Torture                                               p. 16

C.    Conclusions                                    p. 17

A.    INTRODUCTION:

This is the second report of the Tunisian Monitoring Group (TMG) and follows the latest of a series of fact-finding missions to Tunisia by members of the group in the run to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The first mission, of six TMG members, took place from 14-19 January 2005 and led to the first report “Tunisia: Freedom of Expression Under Siege”  published in February 2005. The report described our initial findings and set out a series of recommendations to the Tunisian government.

The second mission, of four TMG members took place from 5-8 May to mark World Press Freedom Day and to launch and publicise, in Tunisia, the Arabic version of the report.

The third mission, of nine TMG members, took place from 6-11 September 2005, and provided the basis for our first update on freedom of expression in Tunisia. This report is released two months before the WSIS Tunis Summit, 16-18 November 2005.

During the course of the three missions the TMG has now met with over 250 individuals and over 50 organisations and institutions including members of the government and opposition, public officials, government supported organisations, independent civil society organisations, human rights defenders, journalists, publishers, librarians, private broadcasters and others. During each of our missions we have sought and been provided with access to government representatives. We welcome this dialogue and we have engaged in a frank and open exchange of views.

During the latest mission we met with the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, the Minister of Communication Technologies and the Director of the External Communications Agency. In our report we acknowledge that some improvements have been made or have been promised, notably with respect to further private radio and television concessions, commitments to removal of the “depôt legal” for periodicals and some improvement in prison conditions, but serious concerns remain with respect to all of these matters

However, since January 2005, we have disappointingly witnessed serious deterioration in other conditions related to freedom of expression in Tunisia, particularly with respect to independent organisations , harassment of journalists and dissidents, independence of the judiciary, and the imprisonment of the human rights lawyer, Mohamed Abbou, for voicing his opinion in articles on the Internet. Cumulatively these changes lead us to conclude that the Tunisian government is seeking to further stifle dissent on the eve of the WSIS.

In such conditions, two months before WSIS Tunis 2005, Tunisia is not a suitable place to hold a United Nations World Summit.

We urge the Tunisian government to take very seriously the recommendations we are making in this report and to show a real and immediate intent to remove the practices we have identified that violate international human rights laws and standards to which Tunisia is a signatory.

We call on the international community to take responsibility in holding Tunisia to account on its international obligations, to insist on real commitment to change and to ensure that independent voices in Tunisia are treated with the respect and tolerance of a rights-based democracy and not the abuses that we consider more characteristic of a police state.

In the following sections we set out the principal developments that we have observed since our first report.

About the Tunisia Monitoring Group

The Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) is a coalition of 14 organisations 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 (WSIS). The 14 organisations are all members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a global network of 64 national, regional and international organizations committed to defending the right to freedom of expression.

The third mission of the TMG was composed of representatives of Article 19, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), International Publishers Association (IPA), Index on Censorship, PEN Norway, World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) and World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC).

Other members of TMG are:  Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Journalistes en Danger (JED), Media Institute of South Africa (MISA), World Association of Newspapers (WAN).

B.    FACTS ON THE GROUND

1. Prisoners of opinion

In the first report of the IFEX TMG we observed imprisonment of individuals related to expression of their opinions or media activities.

We recommended to the Tunisian government to 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 .

We also recommended to 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 .

We further recommended release of the six 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.

At the time of the second report we have witnessed no progress on our recommendations. On the contrary, the situation has worsened, in particular with the imprisonment of Mr. Mohamed Abbou.

We strongly reiterate these recommendations and furthermore we call for the urgent and immediate release of human rights lawyer Mohamed Abbou.

Mohamed Abbou

The imprisonment of Mohamed Abbou has been a chilling blow to freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary and appears to be directly linked to Tunisian government efforts to suppress dissent in the run up to the WSIS.

Mohamed Abbou’s arrest on 1 March 2005 occurred less than 24 hours after a blocked Tunisian news website  ran an opinion piece in which Abbou criticized President Ben Ali for inviting Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to attend WSIS in Tunis.

The basis given for Abbou’s arrest, however, was another opinion piece written by Abbou in August 2004 denouncing torture in Tunisian prisons, and following the outcry generated by the images of torture on Iraqi prisoners in the US-run Abu Ghraieb prison in Baghdad. The piece drew a parallel between torture in Tunisian prisons and in the US-run Abu Ghraieb prison in Baghdad. This piece was run on August 2004 by the same blocked news website, which Tunisians manage to read as e-mail sent by friends and relatives living abroad.

Abbou was sentenced on 28 April 2005 by a criminal court in Tunis, after a hearing that fell short of international standards for a fair trial, to three and a half years of imprisonment for publishing in 2004 statements “likely to disturb public order” and for “defaming the judicial process.”  He was also found guilty of a separate alleged offence of “violence” in 2002 against a female lawyer apparently close to the government.

On 10 June 2005 a Tunisian appeals court confirmed his prison sentence following another trail, described as unfair by local and international human rights groups and Tunis-based Western diplomats. As a form of punishment, Abbou was imprisoned not in any of the prisons situated in Tunis or its suburbs where his wife and children live, but in the city of Le Kef, near the Tunisian-Algerian border.

Mrs. Abbou, who was reported to have been assaulted and knocked down by plainclothes police during the first day of the trial, denied that her husband attacked his female colleague in 2002. Abbou and his wife Samia went on hunger strike at the end of July to inform the international community about the repression inflicted on “those who voice their dissent” in Tunisia.

2. Internet blocking

In the first report of IFEX TMG we observed blocking of websites, including news and information websites, and police surveillance of e-mails and Internet cafes.

We recommended to the Tunisia government to stop the practice of blocking websites and to cease putting Internet cafes and Internet users under police surveillance.

At the time of this second report we have witnessed no significant change and no progress on our recommendations.

We maintain this recommendation and strongly urge the Tunisian government to make significant progress in advance of the World Summit on the Information Society. Tunisian practice on this issue is in direct contradiction with commitments made by Tunisia in the WSIS 2003 Declaration. Continuation of this practice will reflect very negatively on Tunisia at a Summit concerned with Internet governance.

In January 2005 we undertook technical tests  on selected Tunisian Internet Service Providers. We identified systematic Internet blocking which we believe to be operated using Smartfilter software . Internet blocking was applied to wide categories of sites, but also including specific Tunisian government defined URLs.

We have discussed Internet blocking with Tunisian government representatives and with government supported civil society organisations. They confirmed to us that systematic Internet blocking takes place however government representatives asserted that blocking of political and information sites was due to their “terrorist” or “hate speech” content. Government officials were unable to describe any judicial or regulatory process that would enable such assertions to be legitimately challenged in law.

In January 2005 we identified a sample of 20 sites that we assessed to be blocked for their political and information content and which did not appear to carry any information which could be considered illegal or harmful under international law. In September 2005 we undertook further tests of the twenty sample sites. We found that nineteen of the sites identified remained blocked in the tests that we conducted.

3. Censorship of books

In the first report of the IFEX TMG we observed blocking of the distribution of books and publications.

We recommended to the Tunisian government to release banned books, end censorship, and conform to international standards for freedom of expression.

At the time of the second report we have witnessed no significant change and no progress on our recommendation.

We therefore maintain these recommendations and specifically we recommend to amend Article 8 of the Press Code by lifting the obligation (for the printer) to deposit copies of a printed book with the local prosecutor’s office, the Ministry of the Interior and the chamber of deputies.

The dépôt legal system is still shamelessly used as a hidden form of censorship of books in Tunisia. In a country that prides itself in producing 1,400 titles a year for a population of just over 10 million, there are actually only 200-300 new titles produced per year; the rest are mainly reprints and children’s books.

Publishers which dare to publish books the authorities disapprove of not only see these books being blocked at the printer’s (after having been printed), but also have to face other forms of harassment, including forms of fiscal harassment. For more, see the first IFEX TMG report.

4. Independent organisations

In the first report of IFEX TMG we observed restrictions on the freedom of association, including the right of organisations to be legally established and to hold meetings.

We recommended to the Tunisia government to respect international standards on freedom of association and freedom of assembly and to grant legal recognition to independent civil society groups such as the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT), the Tunis Centre 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.

At the time of this second report we have witnessed no progress on our recommendations. We have also witnessed serious new attacks on legally recognised but independent organisations including the Tunisian League of Human Rights and The Tunisian Association of Magistrates. We consider these attacks to represent a serious deterioration in respect for human rights.

We strongly reiterate the recommendation that the Tunisian government must take steps to allow independent organisations to establish without the requirement for prior political approval.

In addition we call on members of the ruling party, the RCD, to cease their attacks on the Tunisia League of Human Rights (LTDH). These attacks are quite clearly and deliberately intended to undermine an organisation which continues to vigorously defend human rights in Tunisia and whose independence should be respected.

We further call on the Tunisian government to bring to a halt arbitrary administrative measures used to destabilize the Tunisian Association of Magistrates (ATM). These measures are clearly incompatible with the independence of the judiciary.

We also call on the Tunisian government to allow the Tunisian Journalists Union (SJT) to operate freely in conformity with Tunisia’s commitments under international labour law.

The Tunisian League of Human Rights
The Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH) was prevented from holding its Sixth Congress, scheduled for 9-11 September 2005, a meeting which members of the TMG had planned, for several months, to attend as international observers. On 5 September 2005, the Court of First Instance in Tunis ordered suspension of all preparatory activities for the planned Congress. The suspension remains in place pending examination by the court of a complaint filed by twenty people close to the government and ruling party and claiming to be members or heads of some of the LTDH chapters.»It is the 23rd court ruling against the LTDH since November 2000,» said Souhayr Belhassen, Vice President of LTDH who explained how a process of restructuring this group was put in place since 2001. She said the aim was to have fewer, but more active chapters. She acknowledged that in some of the chapters eliminated «there are some persons that are pro-government, but others are democrats who have lost their chapters too».

The Minister of Justice stated to the TMG that the matter was an internal affair of the LTDH, however, in a report carried by the state-owned national daily, La Presse, on 10 September 2005, the Secretary General of the ruling party (RCD), M. Hédi M’henni, was quoted in a statement which clearly indicated an endorsement by the RCD of the action being taken against the LTDH . The state-owned press gave no coverage to the views of the LTDH leadership.

Members of the TMG witnessed, on 7 September 2005, how scores of plain-clothes police blocked the streets leading to the offices of the LTDH preventing entry including the passage of a TMG assistant. Following the TMG meeting with the Tunisian Minister of Justice a seminar with international speakers and observers was permitted to proceed on 8 September at the LTDH offices.

The TMG remains deeply concerned at the intense political pressure that is being placed on the independent LTDH by the authorities and by people close to the ruling party.
The Tunisian Association of Magistrates

Attempts to destabilize the Tunisian Association of Magistrates (ATM) and to encourage a minority group of judges close to the government to take control of the ATM started after its democratically elected board spoke out against attacks on lawyers following the arrest of their colleague, Mohamed Abbou, in March 2005 and associated protests. Lawyers, including the head of the Bar Association, Abdessatar Ben Moussa were reported to have been physically assaulted at the Palace of Justice in Tunis by plain-clothes police. Elected members of the Board of ATM were subsequently denied the right to freedom of assembly and expression after the Justice Ministry decided to arbitrarily change the lock on the door of their office on 31 August 2005, and empowered a minority group of magistrates close to the ruling party to take control of ATM.

The Ministry of Justice issued a statement on 23 June 2005 in which it claimed ATM was hit by an internal crisis and its Board might be toppled. It also used the state-run media to attack the elected Board and to promote the individuals it was encouraging to take control of ATM.  The state-run media not only refused to give the other side of the story, but also engaged in a smear campaign against the elected Board.

A minority group of magistrates have called for the disavowal of the elected Board and for a provisional committee to manage the affairs of ATM pending a further Extraordinary General Assembly to be held on 4 December 2005. According to the elected Board of ATM, at least twenty magistrates, including members of the Board, have been involuntarily transferred from their regular work place to different parts of the country for reasons ”linked to their right to express their opinions and for their activities within the association and their commitment to achieve its goals”.

The Tunisian Journalists Union
The Tunisian Journalists Union (SJT) was denied the right to hold its founding congress on 7 September 2005, in violation of the Tunisian Constitution and Labour Code, which provides for the freedom to form trade unions, and in violation of international labour conventions which have been ratified by Tunisia.

On 24 August 2005, Lotfi Hajji, President of the SJT was summoned by the Police District in Tunis and kept for interrogation for nearly five hours. He was told that SJT would not be allowed by any means to hold its first congress. The police officer also told him that a scheduled conference on Journalism and Trade Unions in the Maghreb countries would also not be allowed to take place. Hajji was not provided with any administrative papers or juridical basis that would allow SJT to appeal against the position of the authorities.

On 30 August 2005, the hotel with which the SJT had signed a contract said the conference room where the congress was due to take place needed to be repaired and therefore would no longer be available. This is a common excuse given by hotel managers to Tunisian independent groups when under pressure from the police. Simultaneously, journalists working for both the public media and privately owned media were summoned by managers and editors and asked to choose between their job and the SJT.

On 7 September 2005, members of the TMG raised the case of the SJT with Minister of Justice. No adequate explanation was provided as to why SJT should not hold its founding assembly. In the afternoon of the same day, the TMG had planned a meeting with members of the SJT at the offices of their lawyer, Chwaki Tabib. Plain-clothes police prevented members of the Board of the SJT from entering the building despite insistence by TMG members that they were not prepared to meet the lawyers without the client present. The police were unable or unwilling to provide information as to the legal grounds for their action.

5. Journalists and dissidents

In the first report of the IFEX TMG we observed restrictions on the freedom of movement of human rights defenders and political dissidents together with police surveillance, harassment, intimidation and interception of communications.

We recommended to the Tunisian government to 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.

We also recommended action to be taken against interference by government employees in the privacy of human rights and political activists and end the withholding of their mail and email.

We further recommended to lift the arbitrary travel ban on human rights defenders and political activists, including Mokhtar Yahyaoui and Mohammed Nouri.

At the time of the second report we have witnessed no progress on our recommendations. On the contrary the situation has worsened in particular in the increased harassment of independent Tunisian journalists.

We reiterate our very grave concern at systematic harassment of journalists, activists and dissidents, and urge that immediate steps be taken to remove political surveillance and harassment of individuals engaged in the legitimate defence of human rights and the right to freedom of expression.

During its second mission scheduled to coincide with NGOs activities on World Press Freedom Day, IFEX TMG documented and witnessed attacks on freedom of expression and police harassment of journalists. Attacks on freedom of expression went hand in hand with renewed smear campaigns against human rights defenders and independent journalists.
President Ben Ali has decorated one of the smear campaigners, Abdelhamid Riahi, editor at Dar-Al Anwar news group on Culture Day on 27 May 2005. This news group, which is closely tied to the government, was granted on 29 July 2005 an award allegedly for its advanced “social climate” by the state-controlled Tunisian Association of Journalists (AJT).
Sihem Bensedrine

One of the main targets of harassment and intimidation is Sihem Bensedrine, editor of the online magazine Kalima and spokesperson for the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT). For weeks she has been the target of an insulting and obscene campaign led by privately owned papers, such as Ashourouq, As-sarih and Al-Hadath, papers often used by the authorities to settle scores with human rights defenders, political dissidents and journalists.

The TMG has strongly protested this outrageous campaign.

Lotfi Hajji
Lotfi Hajji, President of the Tunisian Journalists Union (STJ), became one of the most harassed journalists by the police since the establishment of the SJT in May 2004. He is still denied the national press card and also accreditation as correspondent of the Qatari satellite TV, Al-Jazeera.The TMG is gravely concerned by these and other cases and considers there is no legitimate basis for these forms of harassment and intimidation of individuals whose views dissent from those of the government.

6. Broadcast pluralism

In the first report of IFEX TMG we observed 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.

We recommended to the Tunisia government to promote genuine pluralism in broadcast content and ownership including fair and transparent procedures for the award of radio and TV broadcast licences.

At the time of this second report we note and welcome the fact that a second private radio station has been licensed and that a private television station has also been authorised. We remain concerned however that there is no transparent licensing procedure in place and that the new services, while not under state ownership, have shown no signs of genuine independence.

We reiterate the need for fair and transparent licensing procedures and recommend an independent regulatory body be established to oversee licensing of independent broadcast media.

President Ben Ali announced in July the establishment of Radio Jawhara, the second privately owned radio station since 2003.

The owners of Radio Mosaique, Radio Jawhara and Hannibal TV, the first private TV station established in early 2005, all appear to have strong ties with the Tunisian government.

Academics and researchers point out that pluralism in broadcasting cannot gain ground in Tunisia as long as there is no independent regulatory body operating according to fair and transparent procedures set out in law.

7. Press Freedom

In the first report of the IFEX TMG we observed press censorship and lack of diversity of content in newspapers.

We recommended to the Tunisian government to take serious steps toward lifting all restrictions on independent journalism and encouraging diversity of content and ownership of the press.

At the time of the second report we have witnessed a step in the right direction (27 May 2005 announcement to abolish « dépôt légal » for periodicals, which awaits translation into law), but no other progress on our recommendations.

We therefore reiterate these recommendations.

Further we urge that the 27 May 2005 announcement to abolish «dépôt legal» for periodicals be rapidly brought into law.

We also call on the Ministry of the Interior to respect Article 13 of the Tunisian Press Code enabling the establishment of newspapers and periodicals.

IFEX-TMG welcomed President Ben Ali’s announcement of 27 May 2005 to end the “dépôt legal ” procedure for periodicals. Two opposition papers: the weekly Al-Mawkif of the Progressive Socialist Party and the monthly Attarik Al-Jedid of the Renewal Party reported some immediate improvements. Printers have been instructed to release these papers for distribution and not to keep them waiting for two or three days. The announcement is still to be put into law therefore the improvements noted so far reflect only a more efficient operation of the existing system of prior censorship.

At the same time, the TMG has witnessed at first hand the authorities refusal to allow new independent journals. Mission members, Mark Bench, Executive Director of the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) and Alexis Krikorian, Director, Freedom to Publish of the International Publishers’ Association (IPA) on 10 September 2005 accompanied Sihem Bensedrine, editor of the online magazine Kalima and two other contributors to the Ministry of the Interior in Tunis to register the declaration of the establishment of Kalima. In violation of Article 13 of the Tunisian Press Code the Interior Ministry official refused to acknowledge receipt of their request. It is the fourth time since 1998 that the Interior Ministry refused to comply with Tunisian law by handing Bensedrine a receipt acknowledging that she officially informed them of her request to establish a newspaper.

As far as content is concerned, the Tunisian print media is lacking in pluralism. Lack of criticism of the government and the absence of balanced and fair reporting are two important features of the papers owned by the state and the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), as well as by the private sector press. Privately owned papers continue to avoid coverage of issues which might anger the authorities, such as corruption and government attacks on human rights.

Even the Tunisian Association of Journalists (AJT), which is not independent of government, has produced a report highlighting deterioration of the press situation in the country. Neji Bghouri, an AJT Board member, was summoned by the police district in Tunis on 7 May 2005, and, together with  two other members of the Board of AJT who reportedly authored the report, accepted to stop its further distribution.

8. Torture

In the first report of the IFEX TMG we reported credible accounts of recent use of torture by the security services with impunity.

We recommended to the Tunisian government to allow independent investigation into cases of torture allegedly perpetrated by security forces.

At the time of the second report we have witnessed some progress on prison conditions, but no real progress on our main recommendation. Despite progress, prison conditions also remain a source of major concern.

We therefore restate the February recommendation and urge that the Tunisian government take every effort to completely eliminate the practice of torture by the security services.

President Ben Ali announced in April 2005 a decision to ease the inhumane conditions inflicted for years on political prisoners. In particular he announced the ending of the practice of involuntary solitary confinement, imposed on prisoners like journalist Hamadi Jebali. In addition it was announced that the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) would be allowed to visit Tunisian prisons. The TMG and other international human rights groups have welcomed this.

On the other hand we are aware that prison conditions, in other respects, have not markedly improved and remain very poor. We continue to be gravely concerned that torture remains prevalent within the practices of the security services and that documented cases of torture are not being properly investigated or open to proper independent investigation.

C.    CONCLUSIONS

As the WSIS draws nearer, attacks on freedom of expression and freedom of association have escalated since January 2005.

The circle of people targeted by such attacks has also widened. It is no longer the usual group of uncompromising human rights defenders, whom Tunisian authorities have been trying to silence by a number of means, including imprisonment, police harassment and confiscation of passports.

Journalists, magistrates, academics and others are making it clear that they too wish to assert and to exercise their right to the freedom of expression, particularly at a time when the country braces itself to host the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Many thought that the WSIS would be a good opportunity for the Tunisian government to start improving its human rights record and to loosen its grip over the media, the publishing industry and the Internet.

Despite a few positive steps forward, the Tunisia Monitoring Group concluded, during its third mission, that it would be extremely difficult to achieve real improvement in respect for the right to freedom of expression without an independent judiciary and respect for the rule of law, without an independent media to hold government and public servants to account, and without freedom of assembly and association.

Tunisians of different political trends who met with TMG members maintain that they deserve to live in a democracy and that progress in terms of rule of law and the right to freedom of expression needs to be backed by the international community. They argue that democratic countries in particular should speak out and insist that the privilege of hosting a United Nations World Summit requires a demonstrable commitment to upholding internationally agreed human rights.

Snapshots from Bishkek

… And Down Will Come Baby, Cradle and All:

Snapshots from Bishkek and the Central Asian Women Writer’s Conference

June 24-28, 2005

by Ren Powell
In the marketplace the old women sit with their baskets of raspberries. A cardboard box full of chicks for sale. Kyrgyz newspapers and Russian bodice-ripper paperbacks. Plastic shoes, polyester bras, thongs and T-shirts made in China. Round loaves of bread and burlap bags filled with spices. A young woman in jeans is washing glasses in a bucket filled with soapy water. On a card table next to her are two bright blue coolers filled with Tan and Shoro. These coolers are ubiquitous on Bishkek’s street corners, and Samat, a private English teacher who has agreed to be my guide while I wander through his city, insists on buying me a glass of each.  Shoro is a thick, grain-based drink that you can buy with or without carbonation. Even without carbonation, the slightly fermented barley packs a bitter punch. «Full of vitamins,» says Samat. Yeah, it tastes good for you. Tan is made of milk and supposedly cures hangovers. The same bite of fermentation. I drain both glasses so as not to offend, but they leave me feeling bloated, as though I’d eaten a huge meal. Since Kyrgyzstan’s current unemployment rate is near 51%[1], I wonder if these drinks aren’t meals for many of the locals.

Five days is a short time to begin to form an image of a country and its people; there is what I can observe and there is what I am told. But even two women who live on the same street will have different views of their own culture, and most people anywhere in the world will make a statement about their country at noon only to contradict themselves a dozen times before midnight. With that said:

Through a Wide Angle Lens
In late February, when I first began making plans to come to Kyrgyzstan to take part in a conference of women writers sponsored by PEN International, everyone I talked to asked, «Where?»—but after the 24th of March, most of my colleagues had heard of the poor, former Soviet country in turmoil. The Spring Revolution made headlines even in Norway. Encouraged by the revolutions in the Ukraine and Georgia, thousands of people had traveled from the south of Kyrgyzstan to Bishkek in order to support Bakiyev in overthrowing President Akaev. Not a shot was fired in the capital city, but the hungry and homeless crowd rioted: fists, sticks and rocks. Store fronts were shattered and shops were looted. Even now, in June, some of the windows around the Kyrgyz «White House» and the town square of Ala-Too are still boarded with plywood.  According to Samat, most of Bakiyev’s supporters have remained in Bishkek. Maybe these are the men I see everywhere in parked cars midday, sleeping in the backseats or squatting on the ground around the Ladas and Moscowvitches, smoking and talking. Our taxi passes the land management building where whole families are gathered on the lawn, waiting, hoping to be given a parcel of land. Most of these people probably arrived in March, although internal migration has been on the rise in the country for some time now.

Bishkek itself, a city of 1 million, appears to me like a favored child once decked out in braids and ribbons let run wild. In most areas birch saplings spread unchecked and weeds have pushed through the concrete and asphalt. Along the main road to Manas Airport cattle and donkeys occasionally meander across the four lanes. The country gained its independence in 1991, ratifying its constitution in 1993. The Kyrgyz struggle for economic and social stability hasn’t been easy and after the Spring Revolution many of the programs set into motion by President Akaev have been abandoned.

Samat points out one of the old libraries, now rented out as office space. Across the street is the parliament building, which faces the Lenin museum. Unlike many former Soviet states the Kyrgyz people haven’t torn down the old monuments and Lenin seems to be mocking us all, his great arm lifted, finger pointing to the feral hedges.  Passing through the city park, like a miniature version of Copenhagen’s downtown Tivoli, coming up to the back fence of the White House, we see guards sleeping in the shade of trees, IPod headphones in their ears. The shady square next to the White House is filled with tents: green for the military boys, blue for the police force. No one seems to be carrying a gun, but they are prepared with riot gear for another uprising. A young man in uniform turns from his girlfriend to shout at me for taking a picture. He wants to know what magazine I’m representing. I’m frightened, ready to hand over my camera, but Samat laughs, teasing the soldier for chatting with his girlfriend instead of working. We walk on.

I ask Samat to take me to a bookstore and he picks one belonging to the country’s largest chain. While I’ve already been told that a «publisher» in Kyrgyz is actually nothing more than a printer, all writers having to pay for their own publication or find sponsors, I now learn that writers are responsible for arranging distribution as well. The store is filled with Russian and French publications. A single shelf displays the books by local—that is, national—writers: about two dozen books taken on consignment, representing all genres.

Kyrgyzstan has a population of just over 5 million with two official languages: Kyrgyz and Russian. The literacy rate is 96% for women, 99% for men[2]. There are 11 years of mandatory schooling and three major universities. University enrollment is 51% female. There are, however, very few female professors[3].Whatever the country’s problems are—poverty, inadequate agricultural management, corruption, collapsed infrastructure—these are not uneducated people.

Where Her Stone is Thrown: The Conference[4]
We’ve been told this is the first time women writers from this region have come together to discuss issues that relate specifically to them. The conference was an initiative of Vera Tokombaeva, a journalist from Bishkek, who approached the Chair of the International PEN Women Writers Committee Judith Buckrich in 2003, and asked if PEN might be able to help organize such an event in Central Asia. Several of the women attending this conference have actually been living and writing in Bishkek without having ever spoken to one another. Other women are from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. They all want to discuss the difficulties of publication, the social censorship that results from gender inequality, and, well, they want to «network». I guess that’s where the five of us «Westerners» come in: from Australia, Switzerland, Finland and Norway. Our role here isn’t to teach or guide, but learn and establish professional relationships with our Central Asian colleagues.

The conference begins in an auditorium at the Arts Museum with a press conference and three short films: a black and white documentary of the Spring Revolution titled Crash Down from the 7th Floor; a quiet, scenic story of a young rural couple and the circumstances surrounding the birth of their first child, Tunguch (First Born); and a controversial documentary about Bride Kidnapping, directed by Petr Lom. The following day, the most intensive of the conference, this documentary comes up in discussion again and again.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of the conference is the ambivalence these writers express regarding their roles as creative women in their society. Feminism as theory is not discussed and any inquiries in that vein result in general bewilderment. These women’s concerns are practical, urgent and often contrary.

It’s clear that women, married women, are traditionally subjugated by their husbands in this culture. One Kyrgyz proverb says that a girl stays where her stone is thrown. As depicted in the documentary, bride kidnapping is a long-standing tradition. Although technically illegal since 1994, it is still a relatively common practice, whether arranged through families, or as nearly random snatchings. One of the women says that, at this point, it is a priority just to get the word out that the practice is actually illegal. Technically, the kidnapper can be given a prison sentence as long as 5 years. However, the authorities only intervene when a formal complaint is made by the bride’s family.

Traditionally, the bridegroom picks out his intended and, enlisting the help of male relatives, kidnaps and takes her to his parents’ house. At that point the female relatives take over with persuasions and threats of curses should she refuse the boy. Once the girl crosses the threshold, her fate is sealed. She either stays, donning the white wedding veil and drinking from the marriage cup; or she leaves, accursed, her virtue henceforth in question and her prospects for a respectable marriage ruined. Social blackmail. While this documentary has been shown by the BBC, it has been banned from Kyrgyz television.

One of the women at the conference, a poet named Svetlana Suslova, says she is embarrassed by this documentary being shown at the conference, believing it portrays the Kyrgyz people as backward and ignorant, and misrepresents the modern Kyrgyz woman. Yet, two of the other women proceed to share their experiences of having been kidnapped: one refused to be married and is now a single mother, the other says she had been dating her boyfriend for two years when he took her to his brother’s house where his family told her they wanted her to stay. The former explains that she had known the boy vaguely, had had eye contact, but was not ready to marry. The latter describes her experience as romantic. I think about the English tradition of a man kneeling and unexpectedly proposing marriage. One doesn’t even have to take this to the extreme to see that this tradition also puts the woman in a passive position, not being expected to actively pursue a life partner, but to wait for a man to make an offer she can either refuse or accept. Today, perhaps, this kind of proposal is largely symbolic, only made after discussions and with a mutual understanding that a partnership has already been tacitly (or even formally) agreed upon. Yet, this latter woman’s kidnapping was also symbolic. Local traditions are rarely as singular as they first appear.

In Kyrgyzstan, a woman traditionally exerts her power and influence through childrearing. One woman proudly states, «It’s the woman’s responsibility to nurture the soul of the child». Asija Baigogina of Kazakhstan goes so far as to say that the children of women writers display a higher intelligence than other children. In all the discussion about men seeing women writers as a threat to their status as men, not one of the women expresses a wish to see men taking on a greater role in childrearing or homemaking. Put another way, it didn’t appear that these women were eager to relinquish the power they did have in family relationships. Motherhood seems to be an unspoken certainty of what they refer to as «The Feminine Life». Questions made by visiting PEN members about whether women could identify themselves as women independent of their roles as wives or mothers also seem to create confusion. (Granted, much confusion may be due to translation issues). However, when discussing a woman who was running for president, one of her supporters present at the conference clearly states that the candidate isn’t «a woman in the ordinary sense»: she is a widow.

The Feminine vs. The Creative
The phrase that emerges repeatedly through translation is «the feminine life», referring to housework, childrearing and other, familial responsibilities. This is set up against what they call «the creative life», writing poetry, prose, journalism etc. It seems these women really do see their femininity in terms traditional duties, and their creative urges as either gender neutral or masculine pursuits. When I, quite awkwardly, attempt to ask whether any of them see their writing as springing from the same feminine source of creative power as childbirth and childrearing, the room goes silent. The translator asks me to clarify: do I mean that my writing is driven by my libido? I decide to stop talking and just listen.

A Glass Ceiling Named Nancy Drew
Immediately before coming to Bishkek, I attended the PEN congress in Slovenia. One afternoon I met a man attending another conference at the same hotel. He was a moral philosopher teaching at a Florida university. I explained that I was with the Women Writers Committee of PEN, an organization working for free speech and literacy. The next morning at breakfast this philosopher asks my companion if she is also here for the Romance Writers’ Convention. I wanted to throw a book at him, something thick, like DeBeauvoir’s Second Sex, but I can’t say I was surprised. So, neither am I surprised to learn that the women in Kyrgyzstan are allowed to write detective novels and light romances with impunity. Provided there’s no sex in their romances.

Writing about sex, in novels or poetry, brings a woman author’s virtue into question. Married woman who write about sexual experiences are accused of having affairs. Svetlana Suslova is not joking when she says poetesses should never marry. She claims more than one talented poetess has turned out nothing but dribble after marrying. The women talk about how they censor themselves out of fear of being divorced or reviled by their children. If I weren’t committed to keeping my mouth shut, I’d assure them this isn’t a Kyrgyz or Central Asian phenomenon. Perhaps this isn’t even a gender issue. I will, however, grant that the risks of declaring this kind of independence are greater for these women than for me or my colleagues in Europe with greater economic possibilities, social mobility, and fewer genuine taboos.
«Judgment by Wolves»
In so many ways, «support network» is a disparaged term. The connotations are «new age», «pop-psych» and, arguably, gender-specific and patronizing. Still, when the moderator divides us into workgroups to discuss what practical steps should be taken in the future to help women writers in Central Asia, a «support network» is what comes to my mind. So many of these women are writing in complete isolation. They explain the immense social pressure, the «judgment by wolves» they endure from their communities. In Norway there is a saying that women are women’s worst enemies; according to Irina Kozlinskaja only 10% of Kyrgyz women believe that women should use political means to improve their situation. Even in this room we have a breadth of opinions: one woman says «We need to wait to act; this is a time for discussion»; the next tells us her sources say that more than 90% of Kyrgyz women are physically or emotionally abused by their husbands, that young women are committing suicide because of social censorship. Yet another defends the censorship of school textbooks when it comes to teaching teenagers about female reproductive anatomy. Irina Kozlinskaja says that they first need to determine whether women actually want gender equality. What is gender equality? I wonder. What will it be for them? And what are these women’s real expectations for themselves as writers?

It seems to me that, for some of these women, the grass isn’t just greener it’s jade and emerald on our side of the East/West divide. One of the women talked about how easy it would be to publish in Europe once they had translations of their work in English, German, or French. Yes, our opportunities for publishing are greater, but even for us it’s not easy. And interest in translations isn’t exactly burgeoning in the European and American markets. It may take much more discussion to form realistic expectations.

Seeing as how few of these women have reliable access to internet, their goals seem ambitious: organizing book exhibitions, political lobbying, televised round-table discussions, computer programs based on children’s literature, etc. But looking at and listening to these women, I don’t doubt they can accomplish whatever they set out to do collectively. The greatest hurdle may be establishing a community, finding a space and method for productive communication. We, as the visiting PEN members, agree that we aren’t there to make extravagant promises, but we can help them by sharing information about computer listservs and similar solutions, by making them aware of publication venues such as WordsWithoutBorders.org, and by offering moral support and solidarity.

A Panorama
On my last night in Bishkek, Samat tells me his student and friend Sergei wants to drive us around town. We won’t have to pay a taxi. His friend just wants to meet foreigners. It’s immediately obvious that Sergei is well-off as he pulls up in his big, black Mitsubishi. Sergei speaks Russian with eloquence, I’m sure, but his English is labor-intensive. And since my Russian is limited to «Cheers» and «Thank You», conversation is slow. I learn that Sergei is Maldivian, having emigrated with his family when he was 13. He is what they call a shuttle, someone who routinely travels to the United Arab Emirates to buy goods (tax free) and brings them home to sell. We were told the day before that immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when men were too demoralized to work, many women supported their families as shuttles. Sergei has two hotels and several stores, all of which were plundered on March 24th. He was away in the United Arab Emirates when he heard the news of the riots. The airport had closed and there was no way for him to get home for days. He smiles. Everything is going well, now, yes. «Ah, you’re a writer?» he says. He wants to know if I write detective stories.

Five of us are going to dinner: Sergei, Samat, the Chair of the Women Writers Committee Judith Buckrich, Kristin Schnider from Swiss German PEN and me. A little student café where we eat five kinds of salad and shish kebab. MTV is on silently in the corner of the room. Both Judith and Kristin are well-traveled, but I tell them this is as far off the beaten track as I’ve ever been; I’ve never been in a city without an Irish pub. «Ah,» says Samat, «you want to go to the Irish pub? We can take you there.»

Instead Sergei drives us all to a look-out point near a restaurant called the Panorama. He wants to show us Bishkek at night from above. The guidebook says Bishkek is the name of a butter churn, but Samat says it also means cradle. He speaks optimistically of the country, claiming to have rarely seen pregnant women in the city in the past; he says today he’s seen four. He thinks that means people have hope. Not only does the feminist in me react to his statement, I also remember what Leyli Kerova said at the conference about the increasing number infant corpses being found in the city.  Hope is a vital and precious commodity. I hope Samat is right.

Sergei has brought beer, wine and dried fish, which he nimbly rids of eyes and innards before handing over to us. The sun has set already, but we watch the remaining sunlight fade and the stars and the neon and electric lights of the casinos and discos take over. There are a dozen cars parked here. Four teenagers in the nearest car are playing a board game in the backseat. A family is packing up their picnic. A couple is sitting on the low concrete guardrail, their arms around each other. A small fire is burning at the edge of the city. Bishkek’s make-out point, I joke. «Yes,» laughs Sergei. «I only have one wife and am allowed three. I’ve kidnapped you all.» Since I’m married with two kids and my two colleagues are single, I’m sure I’m the one in the clear.

As we pile back into Sergei’s car to leave, the teenagers in the car beside us put away the board game and switch off the light to neck in relative privacy. It really is the same all over.

7/16/2005

[1] according to Irina Kozlinskaja: International PEN Women Writer’s Committee Conference in Central Asia

[2] http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/kg.html

[3] Irina Kozlinskaja: International PEN Women Writer’s Committee Conference in Central Asia

[4] A detailed report of the conference is being prepared by Kristin Schnider of Swiss German PEN. This essay is intended as a supplement to her official report, and is therefore not exhaustive regarding the presentations and discussions of the conference.

Report from World Sumnmit on the Information Society, Tunis, November 2005

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

CONTENTS:

Executive Summary                                                                     p. 3

A.     Background and Context     p. 6

B.     Facts on the Ground
1. Prisoners of opinion            p. 17

2. Internet blocking                p. 21

3. Censorship of books           p. 25

4. Independent organisations   p. 30
5. Activists and dissidents        p. 37

6. Broadcast pluralism             p. 41
7. Press content                      p. 43

8. Torture                               p. 46

C.     Conclusions and Recommendations  p. 49

Annex 1 – Open Letter to Kofi Annan     p. 52
Annex 2 – List of blocked websites      p. 54
Annex 3 – List of banned books         p. 56

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 emails and Internetcafes.
·                    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.

 

A.     BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT

Background to the mission
This report is based on a fact-finding mission to Tunisia undertaken from 14 to 19 January 2005 by members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) together with additional background research and Internet testing. IFEX is an umbrella organization of 64 national, regional, and international groups committed to protecting freedom of expression worldwide.

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.

The organizations are part of a group of IFEX members which came together in 2004 to form the Tunisian Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG). The other members of IFEX-TMG are ARTICLE 19, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) which manages the Toronto-based IFEX, the Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Index on Censorship, Journalistes en Danger (JED), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN).  The goal of the IFEX-TMG is to campaign for significant improvements in conditions for freedom of expression in Tunisia as the country prepares itself to host the second phase of the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) to be held in Tunis, in November 2005.

Members of IFEX have taken a close interest in the World Summit on the Information Society since its inception. At their annual meeting, held in Baku, Azerbaijan in June 2004, 31 members of IFEX signed an open letter to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan expressing serious concerns for the second Summit in Tunis and setting out a series of freedom of expression benchmarks (Annex 1).

These concerns were reinforced by experiences at the Tunis Summit Preparatory Committee meeting held in Hammamet, Tunisia in June 2004 when Tunisian government officials and Tunisian government sponsored “NGOs” sought to suppress any discussion of human rights in Tunisia.

In consequence a number of IFEX members involved in the WSIS process took the decision to establish the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group to observe and report on freedom of expression in Tunisia in the run up to and the period following the Tunis Summit of the WSIS.

This report, the first of the IFEX-TMG, assesses the current state of freedom of expression in Tunisia and makes a series of recommendations for improvement.

Unprecedented since Tunisia’s independence from France in 1956, the IFEX-TMG mission of multiple groups advocating freedom of expression came nearly five years after the fact-finding mission to Tunisia conducted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Abid Hussain.

In February 2000, the UN Special Rapporteur characterised the Tunisian media as showing “uniformity of tone” and lack of criticism of government policies. Not only has this situation not improved, but the legislation traditionally used to exert “different kinds of inducements and pressure” on journalists and editors has been amended in the past two years to drastically further restrict freedom of expression.

Tunisians of different political trends, including former ministers, acknowledged that the WSIS could offer invaluable opportunities to inform the international community of the unrelenting attacks on freedom of expression and to campaign for the protection of this basic right before and after the Tunis Summit of the WSIS.

However, many expressed the fear that the Tunisian government, which heavily invests in public relations campaigns and in establishing groups it falsely calls NGOs, would use the WSIS to improve its image while continuing to conceal its poor human rights record.

Official figures place the number of civil society groups at more than eight thousands, but reliable sources maintain that there are less than a dozen truly independent groups.  Most of them are not recognized by the authorities and their leading figures are under continuous police surveillance and harassment.

During the six-day mission, members of the IFEX-TMG met with Tunisian writers, publishers, editors, journalists, rights defenders, and academics, as well as government officials and government sponsored organisations.

Throughout the mission members of the delegation were observed by and witnessed in action the ubiquitous plain-clothes police whose job is to monitor and control the freedom of movement of human rights defenders and political dissidents, to harass them, and to closely follow international researchers or reporters looking into these issues.

One member of the mission told Tunisian officials that he had travelled nearly 200 times in recent years in different parts of the world, but had never experienced so much police surveillance!

The majority of the meetings took place in or around the capital, Tunis, however four members of the delegation also flew to southeast Tunisia, near the Libyan border, on 18 January to meet with Abdallah Zouari, a journalist and former political prisoner who has been ordered to live, under constant police surveillance following his release, in a remote small town nearly 500 km away from his wife and children.

These mission members later managed to meet, under the watchful eye of plain-clothed policemen in the Mediterranean city of Zarzis, with most of the parents and relatives of seven young people currently serving heavy prison sentences for simply surfing the Internet, according to local rights groups.

The Tunisian authorities sought repeatedly to obtain the postponement of the mission under different pretexts before arranging meetings for members of the delegation with government officials and offering to arrange others with state agencies and state-sponsored organisations.

Political context
Tunisia was the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to adopt a constitution nearly 145 years ago, in 1860.  Its relatively vibrant civil society played a key role in ending the French Protectorate in 1956 and paving the way for the promulgation, a few months later, of the Personal Status Code which granted Tunisian women unparalleled rights in the Arab world.

These unequalled rights for women in the region coupled with huge efforts to promote education and health care and to combat poverty under the country’s first president Habib Bourguiba made Tunisia look, more than forty years ago, as one of the most qualified Arab countries to turn into a democracy.

Although implemented more than forty eight years ago, these achievements, particularly in the field of women’s rights, are often used today by the Tunisian government whenever its poor human rights record comes under international scrutiny.

The establishment of the Tunisian Human Rights League in 1977, the first of its kind in Africa and the Arab world, and the blossoming of an independent press in the last decade of Bourguiba’s lengthy and autocratic rule prompted hope among democracy advocates in Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world.

Many Tunisians thought there was more room for hope when Gen. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ousted Bourguiba in a bloodless coup on 7 November 1987, promising to lead the country toward democracy.

The release at that time of hundreds of political prisoners and the ratification of international human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture, and a brief tolerance for political and media pluralism were welcomed by political and rights activists.

Unfortunately, the days of hope were numbered when President Ben Ali started using the civil war in neighbouring Algeria which erupted following the cancellation in January 1992 of the results of the legislative elections, as an excuse to stifle basic rights, mainly freedom of expression.

Opposition and independent papers were closed down and journalists and hundreds of political activists, most of them Islamists, were imprisoned following unfair trials, particularly in the early 1990s.  Many of them, including Hamadi Jebali, editor of the Islamist weekly Al-Fajr (the Dawn), are still serving lengthy prison sentences.

Amnesty International adopted most of them as prisoners of conscience and repeatedly maintained that they were imprisoned “solely for the peaceful exercise of their religious or political beliefs.”

The leading figures and members of the banned Islamist movement were not the only victims of repression and injustice.  Leaders of the banned Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party (Parti Communiste des Ouvriers Tunisiens, PCOT), the Movement of Democratic Socialists (Mouvement des Democrates Socialistes, MDS), as well as trade union activists of the Tunisian Workers’ General Union (Union Generale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT) have also been arbitrarily imprisoned during the past decade.

Later, the Tunisian government used the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001, to further restrict freedom of association, movement, and expression, and to trumpet its support for President George Bush’s “global war on terror.”  A new law criminalizing freedom of expression was passed at the end of 2003 allegedly to support “the international efforts in matters of the fight against terrorism and money laundering.”  The Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH) said after the promulgation of this law, “the year 2003 has been marked by the promulgation of laws of an unprecedented serious character in terms of their violation of the right to information.”

The 1959 Constitution was revised in 2002 following a Soviet-style referendum permitting President Ben Ali to run in October 2004 for a fourth term in office.  The revisions to the Constitution removed restrictions which prevented the head of state from serving more than three terms in office, and granted him immunity from prosecution for life and were legislatively hidden behind scores of amendments regarding human rights protection.

During the three previous presidential elections (1989, 1994, and 1999), President Ben Ali was declared winner of the elections by the Ministry of the Interior with more than 99 percent of the vote.  In October 2004, he got nearly 95 percent of the vote in an election deemed unfair and boycotted by the most credible opposition groups.  Only leading figures in minor political parties sharing 20 per cent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, largely dominated by the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique, RCD) are allowed to run for presidential elections.

There are seven minor political parties acknowledged by the authorities.  Only the parties most loyal to President Ben Ali have been admitted to the Chamber of Deputies since 1994 and are less subject to harassment.

Elections are routinely characterized by gross irregularities, including voter intimidation and drastic restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly and expression.

International and Regional Obligations
The Tunisian government prides itself on adhering to international obligations in the field of human rights, mainly those contained in the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Tunisia is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but has not ratified the two optional protocols to the Covenant.  The first acknowledges the right of individuals to submit complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee and the second deals with the abolition of the death penalty.

In 1982, Tunisia ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.  Article 9 of this Charter, the respect of which has recently gained more ground in Sub- Saharan Africa than in Tunisia or other North-African countries, guarantees that “every person has the right to freedom of information.”

Under article 32 of the Tunisian Constitution, international conventions that have been duly ratified are granted legal primacy over domestic legislation.

Furthermore, the Association Agreement between Tunisia and the European Union, signed on 17 July 1995 and which entered into force on 1 March 1998, includes a clause concerning human rights.

Article 2 of the Association Agreement clearly states that the relations among the parties, as well as the overall provisions of the Agreement itself, rest on the respect for human rights and democratic principles.  The preamble of the Agreement further underlines that both parties value and respect human rights and political freedoms.  By virtue of Article 74 of the Agreement on Cooperation on Cultural Matters, both parties agree to put a particular emphasis on written means of communications and expression, including books.

Domestic Legislation

A. The Constitution
Article 8 of the Constitution of 1 June 1959 stipulates that “the freedom of opinion, expression, the press, publication, assembly, and association are guaranteed and exercised under the conditions laid down by the law.”

The Constitution thus clearly permits legislative restriction of basic rights, including the right to freedom of expression.

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and prohibits arbitrary arrest. detention and arbitrary interference with privacy and correspondence.  However, the executive branch which appoints, assigns, promotes and transfers judges also heavily influences their decisions, particularly in political cases.

Furthermore, the President heads the Supreme Council of Judges and controls the Constitutional Council which is a simple consultative body accountable only to him and with no effective prerogatives to strike down legislation. Most of the members of the Constitutional Council are appointed by the President and Tunisian citizens have no way of challenging unconstitutional laws.

B. The Press Code
Since its amendment in 1993, Article 1 of the Press Code of 28 April 1975 guarantees, “the freedom of the press, publishing, printing, distributing and sale of books and publications.”  The broad provisions of this piece of legislation prohibiting “subversion” and “defamation” have often been used to prosecute critics of the government and the head of state and has led to the the spread of self-censorship among Tunisians.

Article 8 provides for the legal deposit of “all pieces produced or reproduced in Tunisia”. As soon as the production or the printing is over, it is the producer’s or printer’s duty to proceed with the legal deposit.  As far as books or “non-periodical printed pieces” are concerned, the printer proceeds with the legal deposit of one copy with the territorially relevant Public Prosecutor’s Office, and seven copies with the Ministry of Culture. Of the seven copies, one is for the Chamber of Deputies, one for the Ministry of the Interior and four for the National Library.

Article 12 indicates that fines ranging from 200 to 800 Tunisian Dinars ($1 U.S. equals nearly 1.2 Tunisian Dinars) will punish those who would do not abide by these rules.  Furthermore, “anything that is published or imported to Tunisia in breach of the preceding provisions may be seized by order of the Ministry of the Interior”.

A 1977 decree lays down the general conditions implementing the 1975 Press Code.  As far as the legal deposit is concerned, the decree stipulates that the applicant (the printer, the publisher, the distributor or the producer) sends three copies of a stamped and signed deposit form to the legal deposit office.  It further provides that the administration returns to the demanding party (“déposant”) one of the three copies of the deposit form, which had accompanied the deposit itself. This copy acknowledges receipt of the deposit.

In violation of this legal framework, the authorities require printing houses to await approval by the Ministry of the Interior before proceeding with the distribution of the book (or newspaper) concerned.  This approval takes the form of a receipt (“récépissé”), which the authorities sometimes never send or take their time in sending.

According to Article 13, a declaration must be lodged with the Ministry of the Interior before the publication of any periodical.  In exchange, the Ministry of the Interior must hand out a “récépissé” (receipt).  The declaration must include: The title of the periodical, the details of the publisher, the details of the printer, the language(s) in which it is drafted.  By virtue of Article 14, before the printing of any periodical, the printer requires the receipt delivered by the Ministry of the Interior.  In practice the receipt is almost never issued, thus preventing the creation of a certain number of periodicals in Tunisia.

The status of the foreign press is also regulated by the Press Code, in articles 24 and 25.  Thus, “the publication, introduction and circulation in Tunisia of foreign works, whether or not they are periodicals, may be prohibited by decision of the Ministry of the Interior, on advice of the Secretary of State for Information who is responsible to the Prime Minister.”

In its 2003 Report entitled “Press in Distress” the Tunisian Human Right League explained how the Press Code “has preserved its overriding repressive character” even after the transfer of some of its articles to the Penal Code.  Such transfer was aimed at creating the illusion of “liberalizing the situation of the press,” said the LTDH.  Its 2004 report “Media under Watch” sheds light on the section added to the Press Code in 2001 providing for greater penalties for offences relating to inciting murder and looting, “even in the absence of concrete acts following such incitement.”

The Press Code has been amended on three occasions since 1988.  These amendments mainly concerned the provisions on registration of copyright.

Prominent Tunisian jurists maintain that the current media legislation stifles freedom of expression more than legislation passed in 1936 under the French Protectorate and upon the independence of the country in 1956.

C. The High-Level Communication Council
President Ben Ali replaced the consultative Superior Information Council which, during his predecessor’s rule, offered Tunisian journalists a forum to discuss with officials and editors issues of interest and even to campaign for independent journalism, by an advisory body with a narrower mandate.  The High-Level Communication Council, set up on 30 January 1989, is a 15-member advisory body.  It is responsible for “studying and proposing measures to help develop general communications policy.  However, it is not open to referrals from professionals or the general public.

D. Other Laws that Have a Direct Impact on Freedom of Expression:

a. The Law on Associations of 7 November 1959 has been subjected to two amendments, one of which permits judicial appeals against decisions of the Ministry of the Interior with respect to the establishment and dissolution of an association.  Under this law, a request for approval, for which a receipt is given, must be submitted to the Governor’s Office before setting up an association.  In principle, the Ministry of the Interior has three months during which it can decide to turn down the application to establish the association.

b. The Labour Code of 1966 regulates the establishment and functioning of trade unions, which does not require any prior authorization.

c. The Electoral Code of 8 April 1969 was amended in 2003 to ban the use of privately owned or foreign television channels and radio stations to call on electors “to vote for, or abstain from voting for, a candidate or a list of candidates.”  Any violation of this amendment is punishable by a fine of 25,000 Tunisian Dinars (nearly US$20,800). Since this ban does not extend to reporting on speeches of the incumbent President and his top aides, it puts opposition candidates at a disadvantage in the election campaign.

d. The Law on Political Parties of 3 May 1988:  Political parties are not allowed to pursue their activities, including holding meetings and issuing press releases, until they have been granted authorization from the Ministry of the Interior.

e. The Telecommunications Decree of 14 March 1997 regulates access to the Internet in Tunisia.  This decree, together with the “Internet Decree” published eight days later, provides that the Press Code applies to the production, provision, distribution and storing of information through telecommunication means, including the Internet.

The Internet decree holds each ISP responsible for  content, Web pages and sites hosted on its servers.  Internet users and those who maintain websites and servers are also held responsible for any infraction of the law (Article 9).

f. The Law on the Funding of Political Parties, passed on 21 July 1997, stipulates that only political parties represented in the Chamber of Deputies are entitled to receive subsidies from the state.

g. The “Anti-terrorism” Law of 10 December 2003 aimed at supporting “international efforts to combat terrorism and money laundering” has a very vague and broad definition of terrorism.

Promulgated, ironically, on the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2003, this law prompted widespread concern amid local and international human rights groups that acts of freedom of expression criticizing President Ben Ali’s policies would be considered as “acts of terrorism.”  Long before the promulgation of this law, the Tunisian government had its own definition of “acts of terrorism.”  Hundreds of Tunisian prisoners of conscience and political activists in exile who have never advocated or used violence are labelled by the authorities and the state-run media as “terrorists.”

h. The Telecommunications Code of 15 January 2004 controls the use of radio frequencies and private communication networks.  A government agency responsible for assigning radio and TV broadcast frequencies, the National Agency for Frequencies operating under the supervision of the Ministry of Communication Technologies was established.

Any unauthorized use of these frequencies is punishable by a prison sentence varying from six months to five years and a fine that could reach up to 20,000 Tunisian Dinars (approx. $17,000 U.S.).

i. The Law on Personal Data passed by the Chamber of Deputies on 20 July 2004:  Presented as proof of “the Head of State’s avant-garde policy in the area of human rights”, this law severely penalizes transfer or publication of state documents of public interest by individuals.  It also gives “public authorities, local authorities and public companies” full liberty to access an individual’s personal data.

This law “strips citizens of all protection, reinforces opacity, and criminalizes transparency.  It denies information professionals the right to investigate and denies citizens the right to information,” said the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (Conseil National des Libertés en Tunisie, CNLT).

“What is particularly interesting about this law is that it contravenes the provisions laid down in the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which was passed in December 2003 and signed by Tunisia as recently as March 2004,” added CNLT.

The Convention against Corruption stipulates that “the prevention and eradication of corruption is a responsibility of all States” and that “they must cooperate with one another, with the support and involvement of individuals and groups outside the public sector, such as civil society, non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations, if their efforts in this area are to be successful.”

 

B.     FACTS ON THE GROUND

1. Imprisonment of individuals related to expression of their opinions or media activities.
– Hamadi Jebali, editor of the banned Islamist weekly Al Fajr; imprisoned.
Jebali was first arrested in January 1991 and sentenced by a military court in Tunis to one year in prison for “defamation” after running a piece in Al-Fajr by lawyer Mohamed Nouri on the unconstitutionality of military courts in Tunisia.  He remained in prison until August 1992 when he was sentenced to 16 years in prison by another military court in Tunis for “belonging to an illegal organization” and “plotting to change the nature of the State.”  International human rights groups and Western diplomats deemed the trial of Jebali and 170 other members of the Banned Islamist An-Nahda Movement unfair.

Amnesty International adopted Jebali and scores of other imprisoned Islamists as prisoners of conscience and repeatedly said they have not advocated or used violence and have been imprisoned solely for their “religious and political beliefs.”

Jebali’s long prison sentence is due to end in 2007.

– The Youth of Zarzis:  Abderrazak Bourguiba, Hamza Mahroug, Abdel Ghafar Guiza, Ridha Belhaj Ibrahim, Omar Chelendi and Aymen Mcharek; imprisoned.
Mahroug, Giza, Belhaj Ibrahim and Mcharek were each sentenced to 19 years and 3 months in prison and to 5 years of administrative control on 6 April 2004 by the Court of First Instance of Tunis.  Most of them are aged 21.  On appeal, the sentence was brought down to 13 years.  It was later confirmed by the Cassation Court, the highest judicial body.

Bourguiba, now 20, was sentenced on 16 April 2004 by a Court for Minors to 25 months of prison.  At the time of his arrest, he was aged 17.

Tahar Gmir and Ayoub Sfaxi, also involved in this case, were sentenced in absentia; the former to 19 years and 3 months, the latter to 26 years and 3 months.

The charges are:  Constitution of a gang for purposes of preparing and committing attempts on persons and goods; preparation, transport and possession of explosives, devices and materials intended for the making of such explosives; theft; attempted theft; and holding unauthorized meetings.

The «evidence» alleged to have been seized has never been exhibited to the defendants whose files their lawyers have never been able to consult.

Falsification of arrest dates:  The defendants were arrested in Tunis on 26 February 2003, according to the official version.  However, news of their arrest had already transpired on 18 February 2003.  On 19 February 2003, their lawyers had already notified the Public Prosecutor («Procureur de la République») in the Court of First Instance in Médenine, about violation by the police of custody time-limits of their clients and their incommunicado detention.

While actually arrested on 5 and 8 February 2003 in Zarzis, southern Tunisia, no official report accounts for the three weeks they spent in isolation, prior to confirmation of their arrests.

Territorial non-qualification of the court:  During a first hearing on 3 February 2004 (one full-year after arrest), the case was deferred to 2 March 2004.  The defense lawyers protested the territorial non-jurisdiction of the Tunis court, since the defendants’ arrest had taken place in Zarzis.  They requested the temporary release of the defendants in light of their age and the absence of a criminal record, in addition to the fact that the files were devoid of evidence.  These pleas were all dismissed.

In March 2004, the lawyers for the defense withdrew from a hearing, protesting the examining magistrate’s refusal to allow them to see the detainees or to get copies of the indictment documents.  They deemed such a refusal a violation of the rights of the defense and of the right to a fair trial.  The detainees abstained from answering the examining magistrate’s questions in the absence of their lawyers.

The detainees’ families were unable to visit them until May 2003. To protest this injustice, the families of the Youth of Zarzis have together gone through two hunger strikes in 2003.  Their letters to the authorities and particularly to President Ben Ali, to protect their children from injustice remain unanswered.

While they were hoping that President Ben Ali would respond to their petitions, the police were sent to harass them particularly during their hunger strikes.  The police prevented their neighbours and others from expressing solidarity and showing support for the families.

For nearly two years the defendant’s parents and their lawyers have been asking in vain for concrete proof of wrongdoing.  A brother of one of these prisoners warned that “flagrant injustice might one day tempt some peaceful and naturally tolerant Tunisians to resort to violence to resist tyranny.”

The Youth of Zarzis were jailed in the same prison in Tunis.  This allowed the families to visit their children together once a week and to split the transportation costs.  But their children are no longer held in the same prison and the families cannot afford the weekly visit separately.  They feel that they are being punished collectively.

In the meantime, parents and relatives are hoping that the day will come soon when their “innocent children will return home and the real culprits will be brought to justice.”

Independent Tunisian civil society groups consider the release of the Youth of Zarzis from prison and the end of the cycle of harassment and injustice inflicted on their families as one of their main goals in their campaign for the protection of basic rights prior to the WSIS in Tunis (November 2005).

The emerging Committee to Support the Internautes of Zarzis (CSIZ) met on January 18 at the Tunisian Human Rights League in Tunis to discuss “the alarming health conditions” of the imprisoned young internautes.  They decided to seize the opportunity of the 2nd “Prepcom” in Geneva in mid-February to “widely inform (participants) about the plight of the seven imprisoned internautes.”

They also reiterated their conviction that “it is unacceptable on all counts to hold the second phase of the WSIS in Tunis while the seven internautes continue to stagnate in the prisons of the Tunisian regime.”

The CSIZ said the seven internautes are not receiving the medical care they urgently need and are subject to ill-treatment and harassment at the hands of prison guards. Abdel Ghafar Guiza has been “systematically tortured, in an odiously racist manner due to the color of his skin,” said the CSIZ.

– The Youth of Ariana:  Hichem Saadi, Kamel Ben Rejeb, Mahmoud Ayari, Anis Hdhili, Bilel Beldi, Riadh Louati, Kabil Naceri, Ali Kalai, Ahmed Kasri, Hassen Mraidi, Sabri Ounais, Sami Bouras; imprisoned.

These twelve students were arrested in February 2003 and sentenced by a court in Tunis in June 2004 to prison terms varying from 4 to 16 years for “establishing an association in order to commit aggressions and spread fear and terror.”

Mohamed Walid Ennaifer was sentenced in absentia on the same charges.

According to human rights lawyers, the young students were arrested near the border with neighbouring Algeria, allegedly planning to flee the country and travel to Palestine.

Mokhtar Yahyaoui, one of Tunisia’s most respected judges since independence, said the case is “as groundless and as fabricated as the case of the Youth of Zarzis.” He added that “the tragedy of this country is the absence of an independent judicial system.”

On 5 January 2005 and again on 9 February, the Court of Appeal of Tunis postponed the proceedings of this case. At the time of publication a new hearing was scheduled to take place on 23 February.

Local human rights groups consider the Youth of Ariana as prisoners of conscience and maintain that their case is a freedom of expression issue because some of the charges are based on documents allegedly downloaded by one of the defendants from the Internet.

The defendants told the court that all of the confessions were made under torture.

– Jalel and Nejib Zoghlami; imprisoned.
These two brothers were sentenced on 29 December 2004 to eight months in prison for politically-motivated charges of “theft, aggression and damage to other people’s personal property.”  According to human rights groups this case is aimed at silencing Jalel Zohglami, a political activist and editor of a bulletin called Kaws Al-Karama (the arch of dignity) and the rest of the members of his family known for their opposition to President Ben Ali’s autocratic rule.

Jalel and Nejib Zoghlami are the brothers of journalist Taoufik Ben Brik who five years ago went on a long hunger strike to defend his right to freedom of movement and expression.

Jalel’s wife, Ahlem Belhaj is the chair of the Tunisian Association for Democratic Women (ATFD).  Tunisian human rights groups reported that she has been harassed and denied the right to pay visits to her imprisoned husband with her son since September 2004.

2. Blocking of websites, including news and information websites, and police surveillance of e-mails and Internet cafes
President Ben Ali has expressed time and again his commitment to the development of the Internet while websites are being blocked and young people exploring the Web harassed, arrested, tortured and sentenced to heavy prison terms following unfair trials.

The government and state-run media constantly trumpet that access to the Internet is “free and a fact of life” without any mention of the high price internautes like Zouhaier Yahyaoui or others have paid, and continue to pay for trying to access forbidden sites or to criticize President Ben Ali and his regime on the Internet.

More Tunisians have been arrested for expressing themselves on the Internet during the past three years than for views carried by the print media since the country’s independence, 48 years ago.  The most symbolic case that gives a clear idea about the lack of tolerance of freedom of expression on the Internet on the part of the Tunisian government is the case of Zouhaier Yahyaoui.

Zouhaier Yahyaoui established his online magazine TuneZine (www.TuneZine.com), in mid-2001, after learning how “to get through blocked sites” to quench his thirst for information and communication.  His problems started after he posted on TuneZine an open letter sent in July 2001 to President Ben Ali by his uncle Judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui.  In this letter, which the post office returned to the sender under the pretext that the address was unknown, and to which the state-controlled media turned a blind eye, Judge Yahyaoui denounced the lack of independence of the judiciary in the country.

Zouhaier Yahyaoui was arrested on 4 June 2002 in an Internet café in Tunis.  He was tortured and falsely accused of robbing his “employer,” the owner of the Internet café, at a time when he was in fact jobless.  He was also charged with “spreading false news” and sentenced to 28 months in prison.  He said he was tortured and denied visits by his family and lawyer while in police detention.  “I was handcuffed and ill-treated and no one knew where I was for five days,” he said.

Internet cafés, known in Tunisia as Publinets, are under tight control by both the Ministry of Telecommunications and the Ministry of the Interior.  Access to these public Cybercafes may be denied by the owner who is also entitled to check anything that is saved on a disk by a customer.  It is the owner’s duty to call the police in case the content of what is saved is deemed to be a problem.  Very often, computers available in Internet cafés are not equipped with disc drives or USB plugs. Internet users are asked quite often asked to show their ID to the owner or manager of the Internet café.  The owners of public phones, faxes, and photocopiers are also required by the police to keep a watchful eye on their customers and not to hesitate to ask for their IDs.

Yahyaoui was released on parole at the end of 2003 after serving most of his prison sentence.  His courage and local and international campaigns of solidarity helped end his ordeal.  But it is unlikely that this young and intelligent university graduate will find a job in a country where the job market, including the private sector, often awaits the green light from the police to offer employment to young job seekers.

Yahyaoui said some of his friends who used to contribute to his online magazine have taken refuge in western countries because they felt Tunisia was no longer a safe place to live in.  He added that, “Anyone who says anything against Ben Ali is considered a terrorist or a traitor.”  President Ben Ali and the state-controlled media often accuse rights defenders and political activists of “treason” and of “serving foreign interests.”

During the IFEX-TMG mission to Tunisia in January 2005, direct testing was carried out of Internet blocking. The tests carried out through Internet Service Provide 3S GlobalNet indicated at least 20 news and information websites were blocked by Internet filtering systems.

A list of these sites is provided at Annex 2. These sites are all available outside Tunisia and none appear to carry material which could justify blocking on the basis of internationally agreed freedom of expression standards. What they have in common is that they provide information and points of view which are independent and which are sometimes critical of the Tunisian government.

We found similar patterns of website blocking through other Internet Service Providers when tested through proxy servers and this suggests that website blocking is specific, is systematic and is centrally controlled.

A possible exception may apply to Internet Service Providers whose Internet access is not only through the Tunisian Internet Agency but also through satellite.

The Internet blocking appears to be performed by the software application SmartFilter Version 3. Smartfilter is an application developed and marketed by a US company, Secure Computing. This application provides a series of website categories which may be switched on or off. In addition it allows for unique blocking of specified URLs.

The Tunisian use of Smartfilter appears to have the categories of nudity, pornography and anonymisers switched on. In addition a number of unique URLs are switched on to ensure website blocking. These include the news and information websites listed at Annex 2.

The technology provides flexibility for specific URLs to be switched on or off at short notice and we gathered anecdotal evidence that accessibility of some websites does vary from time to time. For years, for instance, the sites of international human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and the Committee to Protect Journalists have been systematically blocked.  So have been the sites of foreign newspapers such as French dailies Le Monde and Liberation and the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine and the monthly Le Monde Diplomatique. These sites were available in January 2005 while others, mainly those giving alternative Tunisia perspectives on Tunisia, remained blocked.

Amnesty International-Tunisia reported that the websites of the London-based international human rights group and of some of its sections in countries including France and Canada were no longer blocked at the end of January. Its own site, AI-Tunisia, was reported by members of the board of AI-Tunisia to be briefly accessible during the visit paid to Tunisia by the IFEX delegation. Members of the Board deemed this “not purely coincidental.”

On 30 January Fathi Chamkhi, spokesperson for the Tunisian section of the Rally for an International Alternative of Development (le Rassemblement pour une alternative internationale de developpement, RAID-Tunisie), also known as the Tunisian section of ATTAC, reported that the site of his group can now be viewed in Tunisia for the first time in 5 years.

Chamkhi said in a press released carried by the daily online magazine Tunisnews, “the recent visit to Tunisia of the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group “obviously contributed to this development.”  He added that the former campaigns to free Zouhaier Yahyaoui from prison and the current ones to release the Youth of Zarzis and Ariana also contributed to the decision to stop blocking the website of RAID-ATTAC Tunisia.  So did the struggle of Tunisian independent NGOs and journalists that “helped lift part of the veil which hides the Tunisian regime’s practices which stifle liberties.”

Such pressure was reported to have led the government to temporarily lift blocking of local and international rights groups and newspapers and magazines particularly when Tunisia hosted international meetings and visitors.

Different independent editors whose websites are posted outside the country said the reasons why the internet is so tightly controlled by ISPs close to the regime, including President Ben Ali’s daughter and the state-run Tunisian Internet Agency, are purely political.

Editors of online magazines resorted to the Internet because of the absence of independent journalism and because the government has failed so far to stifle freedom of expression completely on the Internet thanks to proxies and pressure from the international community.

Sihem Ben Sedrine, Naziha Rejiba, co-editors of Kalima and Nadia Omrane, editor of Alternatives Citoyenne (Citizens’ Alternatives), used to contribute to independent papers like Ar Rai (The Opinion), Le Phare (The Lighthouse), and Le Maghreb, which were forced by the government to close down several years ago.

According to the Tunisian Human Rights League, the tight police surveillance of the Internet and the harassment and imprisonment of Zouhair Yahyaoui and Abdallah Zouari has had a negative impact on the rate of Internet use.

“In Latin America the rate is 1,000 Internet users per 10,000 inhabitants and in South and East Asia it is 2,000 per 10,000 inhabitants.  In Tunisia, this rate is 750 per 10,000 inhabitants,” said the LTDH adding that most Internet users in Tunisia work for the government and personal accounts amount to only 7.5% of Internet users. The LTDH also reported that there are 0.3 Internet cafes  per 10,000 inhabitants in Tunisia, while in neighboring Algeria there are 4 times as many, i.e.: 1.3 Internet cafes per 10,000 inhabitants.

The Tunisian government has its own statistics: “900,000 Internet users; 12 ISPs, including 5 belonging to the private sector; 310 Internet cafes at the end of 2004.”

3. Blocking of the distribution of books and publications.
The Tunisian book market is relatively small.  It is divided between French and Arabic language texts.  There are over 40 publishers in Tunisia, both private and public.  Most of them are small publishers.  The largest ones are: Cérès Editions (private), Sud Editions (private), Maison Arabe du Livre (public).

Small publishers often faced fiscal controls as a form of intimidation and pressure and scores of their books were blocked at the “legal depot.” So was recently a book on sexuality by a female writer.

As required by the Press Code, the printer deposits a certain number of books but never gets the “récépissé” (receipt) from the authorities.  Thus, the book in question is withheld from distribution even after completing the formal procedure of the legal depot.  Another book by the son of Mohieddine Klibi, one of the figures of the national struggle for independence has never been authorized.

Mohamed Talbi’s books on Islam are continuously blocked in the “legal depot.”  Talbi, a former Dean of the Faculty of arts in Tunis and one of the most prominent scholars and advocates of dialogue between religions and of freedom of expression has also seen all of his books, released years ago by the Tunisian censors, disappear from book stores.  His latest book “Penseur Libre en Islam” (Free Thinker in Islam) published in France in 2003 by Albin Michel is still denied access to the Tunisian market.

His French publisher sent him 25 copies, but the Ministry of the Interior confiscated them, without giving him a receipt.

”Nearly two years ago, I asked at the Ministry of the Interior humbly and politely for a document explaining that my book is banned.  They refused, claiming that the book might be allowed to be on sale one day,” said this elderly scholar.

There is no such thing as a free flow of books and publications among Arab States, or from, say, France to Tunisia.  The Tunisian authorities carefully censor foreign books that come into the country.

Talbi said: “One day the customs seized a book I bought in Rome called ‘le catechisme de l’Eglise catholique’ and later asked me what’s the meaning of catechism?”

Talbi, who chairs an unauthorized freedom of expression group called OLPEC (Observatoire de la liberte de presse, d’edition et de creation), questioned the use of international freedom of expression groups’ presence at the WSIS, if Tunisians like him are denied free access to the local media.

Moncef Marzouki, former head of the LTDH and spokesperson of CNLT and currently head of an unauthorized political group, the Congress for the Republic (Congres pour la Republique) has seen his books vanish from Tunisian book stores.  Even those dealing with human rights and health education and some of his latest books on the struggle for democracy and human rights in the Arab world have been published outside Tunisia, including Morocco.

Several books criticizing the Tunisian government’s poor human rights record, including a recent book by Sihem Ben Sedrine and Omar Mestiri titled “L’Europe et ses despotes” (Europe and its Despots), have been published in France.  At Tunis Carthage Airport books brought by Tunisians, particularly rights activists and dissidents are often confiscated by the customs agents.  Ben Sedrine has seen more than once recently copies of her book confiscated.

There are no clear guidelines in terms of censorship and preventing distribution of books and publications.  Such arbitrary behaviour has undoubtedly dealt an unprecedented blow to creativity and artistic life as self-censorship seems to have become second nature among Tunisians.

There is no rational explanation, for instance, of the confiscation in late November 2004 at Tunis Carthage Airport of ten books brought from Cairo by Neji Merzouk, member of the board of the LTDH and head of a small publishing group called “Samed” based in Sfax, Tunisia’s second largest city.  Aside from the Annual Report of the Cairo-based Arab Human Rights Organization, the remainder of the nine confiscated books had nothing to do with Tunisia.  Some were very critical of radical Islam, which the Tunisian government claims to be combating.  Among the confiscated books was also “Emarat Yacoubian” (The Yacoubian Building), a best-seller by Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany!

Two books in Arabic published by Merzouk’s group, “Samed”, have, since 2003, been awaiting authorization to make it to the book stores.  The first one is a novel by Nejib Saadaoui titled “Mesbah El-Jarboue:  a Hero from the Land of Fig and Olive Trees”; the second one is a collection of poems written by Kamel Ghali titled “Beautiful Doubt.”

In 1996, the police stormed Samed publishing house in Sfax and later the same day his home in Chebba and seized 12,869 copies of 13 books which had been authorized for sale years ago by the government.  His petition dated 23 May 1996 to the Minister of the Interior, protesting this abuse of power remains unanswered.

According to the banned League of Free Writers, “Samed” is the last Tunisian “combat publishing house” which may play a role similar to the role of Sihem Ben Sedrine’s defunct Aloès publishing house, “although to a much lesser extent.”  Aloès publishing house was broken into twice in December 1999 by individuals thought to be members of the political police, and all its computer equipment was taken.

Hafidha Chekir, a law professor and human rights defender, saw in 2000 her book “Les Droits des femmes entre les textes et les resistances” (Women’s Rights between the Legislative Texts and Resistance to Change) put on sale in Tunis by Chama Publishing House.  Nearly six months later, the book was suddenly withdrawn from book stores by the authorities under the pretext that it needed the “Depot legal”!  Ironically this book has not been recently withdrawn from the shelves of the library of the Faculty of Law and Political Science where Chekir has been teaching for more than 25 years.

Chekir’s book is based on the research and findings of her doctoral thesis for which, in 1998, she was awarded the Human Rights Prize by the French Society for International Law.

In 2004 the Tunis-based Arab Institute for Human Rights sent to the printer a manuscript in Arabic written by Hafidha Chekir entitled “Guide about the participation of Arab women in Political Life.”  The book is still awaiting authorisation following the customary “Depot legal.”

This arbitrary behaviour in the field of publishing and distribution of books and publications often in line with the official discourse on human rights, modernity and radical Islam has been gaining ground since President Ben Ali’s coup, which Tunisian journalists are instructed to refer to as “the change.”

The Tunisian section of Amnesty International waited nearly five years after completing the formalities related to the “depot legal” before being allowed to use a guide book on human rights education. This guide, prepared at the end of the 1990s in cooperation with the Norwegian section of Amnesty International, would not have been released without an international campaign backed by some influential sections of the movement.

For years AI-Tunisia has seen thousands of documents, including Amnesty International’s Annual Report, blocked at customs, its phone and fax lines frequently cut off and its mail regularly stolen from its letter box.  “International pressure can bear fruit and help loosen the grip of this autocratic and perverse state which stifles basic liberties,” said a former chair of AI-Tunisia.

The Tunisian Association of Democratic Women has been waiting since 1994 for the authorities to allow the release of a book titled “Violence against Women.” The book is a compilation of papers and remarks presented at an international seminar held in Tunis in November 1993.  A poster designed by this independent and beleaguered association to raise women’s rights awareness and protect them from violence has also been withheld since 1993 at a printing house following instructions from the authorities.

Despite all the obstacles and harassment facing independent publishers, the government has, for years, been discussing a draft convention with the Tunisian Publishers Union (L’Union des Editeurs Tunisiens, UET) aimed apparently at further controlling the publishing sector.  The UET which was established in 1972 but remained rather dormant for more than a decade, began to demonstrate interest in the promotion of reading and books through an increased participation in various book fairs (Paris, Arab world).  Its current membership is nearly 40 publishers representing 70% of the Tunisian publishing industry.

The draft convention defines guidelines on ways of establishing a publishing house and distributing “cultural books” and describes sanctions which might be inflicted on publishers.  Sanctions could go as far as closing down the publishing house in cases where the minister came to the conclusion that the publisher “committed a professional mistake or ethical violation.”

The circle of freedom of expression is narrowing, not only among publishers, but also amid prominent historians committed to scientific research, such as Abdel Jelil Temimi founder and head of the Temimi Foundation for Scientific Research and Information (www.refer.org/fondationtemimi). This foundation has earned a reputation during the past years for crossing “red lines’ by shedding light on the recent history of Tunisia and issues such as censorship in the Arab world.  The papers and conclusions of its first conference on censorship in Arab countries held in 2000 are still awaiting the green light from the Tunisian authorities to be made public.  This negative attitude on the part of the Tunisian government did not dissuade the Temimi Foundation from organizing, at the end of November 2004,  its second conference on Censorship in the Arab world.

The Temimi Foundation, which is enjoying a margin of freedom of expression unparalleled in the state-run research centers and universities, has been waiting for nearly ten months for the government’s decision to allow the release of a book containing testimonies on the confrontation between the ruling party and the Tunisian General Workers Union (UGTT) in 1978, known as the “Black Thursday”, which led to scores of dead and wounded among the population.  Apparently the censors did not appreciate the testimony of one of the main protagonists during that crisis, Taieb Baccouche, former Secretary General of the UGTT and currently president of the Arab Institute for Human Rights.

Furthermore, several books by Tunisians forced into exile, including Ahmed Manai, Sadri Khiari, Taher Labidi, Olfa Lamloum, Taoufik Medini, Mohamed Mzali and Rached Ghannouchi, have not been allowed to make it to the Tunisian state-controlled book market. Neither have books on Tunisia recently written by French journalists Nicolas Beau and Jean-Pierre Tuquoi and French Academics Michel Camau and Vincent Geisser… or Canadian academic Lise Garon.

4. Restrictions on the freedom of association, including the right of organizations to be legally established and to hold meetings.
Despite 8,000 officially-acknowledged associations in Tunisia, only a dozen associations are really independent, such as the Tunisian League for Human Rights, The Tunisian Association for Democratic Women, the Tunisian Section of Amnesty International and the unacknowledged National Council for Liberties in Tunisia, the League of Free Writers and the Tunis Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary. The remaining thousands of associations which the government and the state-run media ironically call NGOs are tightly controlled by the Ministry of the Interior and the ruling party. Even members of the board of sports and cultural clubs have to be approved by the authorities.

Most of the associations the authorities send to international gatherings as “NGOs” are government sponsored organisations which can not be considered independent of the ruling powers.

Truly independent associations must work clandestinely. Their communications (mail, email, fax) are controlled and it is not uncommon for them and their leading figures and members to receive viruses or groups of 200 or 300 identical e-mails from unknown users, which blocks their e-mail servers. Their mails and parcels are very often opened or do not reach the final recipients. Phone conversations are tapped and freedom of movement is very often infringed whether internally or externally.

All the independent NGOs the IFEX delegation met seek legal recognition from the Tunisian government. Legal status would allow them to act with greater freedom. In other words, the situation of freedom of expression in Tunisia, including freedom to publish, will not improve as long as independent NGOs are not officially acknowledged by the authorities. Effective acknowledgement is a step – albeit a necessary one- on the road to better freedom of expression in Tunisia.

The increasing legislative and administrative restrictions on the right to freedom of association have led many civil society activists, particularly since 1998, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to establish groups and exercise their right to freedom of association and assembly without prior authorization from the government.

The National Council for Liberties in Tunisia
The CNLT was established in December 1998 by a group of human rights defenders following unprecedented attacks on the LTDH, which was forced into hibernation in 1992.  The CNLT’s monitoring of human rights violations prompted continuous violent reactions against its leading members including arrests, physical assault, and harassment.

Nearly 150 plain-clothed policemen blocked the entry to a CNLT meeting on 11 December 2004 in Tunis.  “Many of our members were assaulted on that day by the police.  Three of them were injured, including one who had his ribs broken,” said Sihem Ben Sedrine.  Another meeting of the CNLT coincided with the visit of IFEX members to Tunisia in January.  CNLT militants were denied access to their office on Abu Dhabi Street in the center of Tunis on 16 January 2005 by scores of plain-clothed policemen.

IFEX members noted the presence of some of these policemen when they later visited the CNLT office.

Unauthorized NGOs generally hold their meetings at the homes of their leading figures, but militants are often prevented from taking part in what the authorities consider “illegal meetings.”

The Association for the Struggle against Torture.
Another unauthorized group is the Association for the Struggle Against Torture in Tunisia.  “When we talk to each other over the phone, the police quickly turn up.  Our phones are obviously tapped.  Nearly one year ago almost 40 plain-clothed policemen circled my office.  It’s a way to discourage us and deny us the right to operate within the framework of the law,” said Radhia Nasraoui.

On 8 June 2004 Nasraoui and other founding members of the Association for the Struggle Against Torture in Tunisia were assaulted by nearly 17 plain-clothed policemen and were prevented from turning in the application for legal status for their group to the authorities in Tunis.  Ridha Barkati, treasurer of the group and brother of a political activist who died under torture several years ago was thrown into a taxi and ordered to leave.

The International Association for the Support of Political Prisoners (L’association internationale de soutien aux prisonniers politiques).
This group, which is very active as far as shedding light on the plight of nearly five hundred political prisoners and former political prisoners, was established nearly three years ago. Members of the board were assaulted and harassed by the police when they first tried in 2002 to deposit their application for legal status. They were told by the police there was no such office which would deal with their application! Later they sent their application through the registered mail to the competent authorities, but the envelope containing the application was opened and returned to them with no comment or the long-awaited receipt.

The head of the group, Mohamed Nouri, and other members of the board, including Saida Akremi and Samir Ben Amor are constantly harassed and followed by the police. Plain-clothed policemen are regularly posted in front of their offices and to intimidate their clients. Their homes are often under police surveillance too.

Nouri, Akremi and Ben Amor are lawyers. Nouri’s problems started nearly 15 years ago when the government sued him in a military court because of an opinion piece run by the weekly El Fajr in which he argued that the military courts are unconstitutional. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, but was released after more than eight months.

The Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary (Le centre de Tunis pour l’indépendance de justice).
Attempts by this group, established by scores of lawyers and law professors nearly two years ago, to secure legal recognition from the authorities has so far failed.

The group is headed by one of the country’s bravest and most respected judges, Mokhtar Yahyaoui. His open letter to President Ben Ali urging him in 2001 to put an end to the lack of independence of the judiciary, was highly appreciated by human rights defenders and democracy advocates. But he had soon to pay a very high price for his courage. He was fired from his job and physically assaulted by thugs in the streets of Tunis and saw his nephew thrown in prison only for posting his open letter on his website.

The daily harassment by plain-clothed policemen of the workers who were painting and refurbishing his office which he planned to turn into a law practice led him in September 2004 to change his mind regarding the possibility of practicing law in such dire conditions.

The League of Free Writers
The league of free writers is not officially approved by the authorities. LFW has two requests: 1. Implementation of the Press Code (“Hand out the receipt!”), 2. Non-application of the Press Code to books, or abrogation of the Press Code.

The history of the League of Free Writers (LFW) is a good example of how the Tunisian authorities do not respect the right to assemble. The LFW deposited its statutes on 13 July 2001. This, in itself, had not been easy. Sometimes, the authorities, which are aware of when the statutes will be deposited by a would be association, simply block the official building’s entrance (physically) or simply do not hand out the receipt which they should be handing out when statutes are deposited. This is for instance the case of Raid – ATTAC Tunisia. The authorities never handed out the receipt to them, thus preventing them from going to court for a non-existing decision.

Within two months, the authorities informed LFW that it would not be approved. FLW filed a complaint with the administrative tribunal in February 2004. The tribunal sent a questionnaire to LFW and to the Ministry of Culture. The latter one gave 3 reasons for refusing to approve the LFW:

– There is already a union of Tunisian writers.

– The adjective “free” is a problem. It seems the association would exclude writers who are not free.

– One of the articles of the statutes stipulates that the LFW would defend writers’ interests, thus being more of a trade union than an association.

The administrative tribunal, whose decisions are not compulsory, has not reached a final decision yet. It is not expected to do so before 2007.

Interestingly, the OLPEC was given the same reasons for not being officially approved.

Observatory of the Freedom of the Press, Publishing and Creativity (OLPEC).
OLPEC was founded in 2001. The authorities refused to acknowledge receipt of OLPEC’s official request for approval in 2001. OLPEC was finally given a receipt on 3 May 2001. Within three months, the authorities, as they are required by law, informed OLPEC that it would not be approved. The goals of OLPEC are as follows:

– Investigate censorship of books, the press and artistic activities;

– Publish regular reports on the situation of freedom of expression;

– Issue alerts on particular cases of infringement of freedom of expression;

– Propose reforms to improve the situation of freedom of expression in Tunisia.

OLPEC filed a complaint with the administrative tribunal in 2001. The case is still pending. It should be noted that very often it is not even possible to file an official complaint because the authorities did not acknowledge receipt of the official request for approval As in the LFW case, the reasons put forward by the Ministry of Culture in the OLPEC case are:

– Name not appropriate.

– Goals of the association broad enough for it to be a political organisation.

The Tunisian section of the Rally for an International Alternative of Development (le Rassemblement pour une alternative internationale de developpement, RAID-Tunisie)
This group was established in 1999. Out of nearly 40 local sections of this international movement, only the Tunisian section is not granted legal status.  Its spokesperson, Fathi Chamki is one of the most harassed civil society activists.  He ha been tortured, ill-treated and arbitrarily jailed for nearly one month during the past years.  The members of the association are harassed. They are under tight police surveillance.  Their freedom of movement is severely curtailed and their phone and mail communications are intercepted.

The Ministry of the Interior warned in June 2004 the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the Progressive Democratic Party against hosting the second Congress of the Tunisian section of the Rally for an International Alternative of Development. In October 2004, militants of this group were prevented by the police from accessing the headquarters of the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties to hold their second congress. “International solidarity can decisively help in forcing the dictatorial regime to back down and let us hold our second congress,” said Chamkhi.

Political parties critical of President Ben Ali’s policies are also subject to attacks and assaults on their leading members, even though their parties have been already granted recognition. For instance, the Progressive Democratic Party (le Parti democratique progessiste, PDP) and the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties in Tunisia (le Forum democratique pour le travail et les libertes, FDTL) are not treated by the authorities on an equal footing, even with less important political groups. They are kept under constant police surveillance and denied facilities granted to other minor political groups mainly because they boycotted the 2004 elections.

Led by Moustafa Ben Jaafar, former member of the board of the LTDH, the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties, which waited 8 years before being granted legal status in 2002, is currently being harassed and taken to court by individuals believed to be close to the Ministry of the Interior.  The problems of Ben Jaafar increased suddenly increased after the decision of his political group in January 2004 to boycott what they called the “mock presidential and legislative elections.”

Most of the unauthorized human rights and political groups have called repeatedly, in vain, on the authorities to abide by the Constitution, the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration of the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups, and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on 9 December 1998.

In its “Remarks regarding the preliminary conclusions of the IFEX delegation to Tunisia” the Tunisian External Communication Agency said, “Each Tunisian is free to join, or not to join, any association,” and “Tunisian civil society is remarkably dynamic.”

It singled out the Tunisian Association of Journalists as an example of an association which publishes “each year its own report on the state of the press in Tunisia.”

In fact, the Tunisian Association of Journalists used to be one of the most independent journalists’ groups in the Arab world until it was forced in 1993 by the authorities to support the candidacy of President Ben Ali.

The Tunisian Association of Journalists, an example of independence or a tool of propaganda?
The Tunisian Association of Journalists repeatedly turned a blind eye to mounting attacks on the media and harassment and imprisonment of journalists.  Its decision to award its “Golden Quill” to President Ben Ali in December 2003 led to its suspension in March 2004 by the International Federation of Journalists and prompted independent Tunisian journalists to establish in May 2004 a new trade union (Le syndicat des journalistes tunisiens).

Its latest report on the state of the press in Tunisia was largely distributed outside the country and among the Western diplomatic community based in Tunis. The report appeared to be part of a strategy backed by the government to influence the International Federation of Journalists to lift the suspension of Tunisian Association of journalists during the IFJ Congress in Athens in May 2004.

The Tunisian authorities usually advise international visitors to meet with the chairs of the Tunisian Association of Journalists and the Tunisian Association of Newspaper Editors expelled by the World Association of Newspapers in 1997 for its lack of defense of press freedom in Tunisia.  Both associations have been led during the past 15 years by members of President Ben Ali’s ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD).  So have been other groups established by the authorities to spread the illusion of a dynamic and pluralistic civil society.

Such state-run groups are subsidised by the authorities and encouraged to take part in international conferences, including the WSIS. Tunisian rights and political activists find it ironic that these state-run groups are considered as NGOs and granted accreditation to the WSIS while their groups are denied accreditation simply because they have no legal status under their autocratic regime.

5. Restrictions of the freedom of movement of human rights defenders and political dissidents.
Civil society activists are sometimes put under house arrest for very short periods of time, in violation of their right to freedom of movement and expression. They are denied the right to leave their home to take part in meetings, even when the meeting is held at the headquarters of authorized political or human rights groups. No written explanation is provided, only oral warning of the consequences of not abiding by such an arbitrary decision.

Abdallah Zouari; harassed
Zouari used to write for the Islamist weekly Al-Fajr until the government banned it in 1991.  One year later he was sentenced by a military court to 11 years in prison and five years of “administrative control” for belonging to “an illegal organization” and planning “to change the nature of the state.”

Since his release from prison in June 2002, he has been kept under virtual house arrest in the suburbs of the small town of Zarzis, nearly 500 km. south-east of Tunis. Nine policemen closely watch him 24/7 at his parents-in-law house where the Ministry of the Interior has ordered him to remain.

Zouari’s freedom of movement and expression are tightly restricted. In July 2003 a cantonal court sentenced him to four months in prison for “defamation.”  The case followed an argument he had with the owner of an Internet café who denied him access, on instructions from the police.  One month later, he was arrested and convicted of violating his “administrative control” and sentenced to nine months in prison.  This second case followed a visit with three human rights lawyers to a local market, nearly 40 km. from Zarzis.

A contributor to blocked web magazines, NahdhaNet (www.nahdha.net), Kalima (www.Kalima.tunisie.com) and Tunisnews (www.tunisnews.com), Zouari is not welcome to use Internet cafés which are under regular police surveillance.

For the second time in less than one year, Zouari went on hunger strike on 23 January 2005 to bring attention to his plight, to defend his right to express himself and to work freely, and to live under the same roof with his wife and children. They live in the residential city of El-Mourouj, in the southern suburbs of Tunis.

 – Sihem Ben Sedrine and Neziha Rejiba; harassed.
Respectively, editors of the French and Arabic sections of the online magazine Kalima (www.Kalima.tunisie.com) and human rights defenders, Ben Sedrine and Rejiba are often harassed and are under continuous police surveillance.  Scores of plain-clothed policemen are sometimes in front of their respective homes.

Both Ben Sedrine and Rejiba, also known as Um Zyed, became among the favorite targets of the Tunisian political police, for shedding light on human rights violations and crossing “red lines”, such as criticizing President Ben Ali’s autocratic rule and the involvement of members of his family in shady business deals.  Ben Sedrine was arbitrarily detained for weeks in 2001 after tackling the issue of corruption in Tunisia during a program aired by a London-based satellite channel.

Rejiba was given a suspended sentence of eight months and a fine of 1,200 Dinars (nearly $1,000 U.S.) for allegedly violating foreign currency laws. Human rights lawyers said the charges “are fabricated and aimed at tarnishing her image because of her political activities and courageous articles.” This suspended sentence and fine came after Rejiba criticised the overwhelming presence of President Ben Ali’s portraits in the public sphere

Other human rights defenders and political activists are also popular targets for the plain-clothed political police.  The long list of the frequently harassed human rights defenders and dissidents of different political trends include:

Radhia Nasraoui, Moncef Marzouki and his brother Mohamed Ali Bedoui (now living in Western Europe, after being arbitrarily imprisoned and fired from their respective positions as medical professor and teacher), Hamma Hammami, Nejib Hosni,  Mokhtar Yahyaoui, Raouf Ayadi, Zouhaier Yahyaoui, Mohamed Nouri, Lassad Jouhri, Taoufik Ben Brik, Sadri Khiari, Saida Akremi, Mohamed Jemour, Bechir Essid, Slah Jourchi,Souhaier Belhassen, Ahlam Belhaj, Khedija Cherif, Alya and Khemais Chamari, Hedhili Abderrahmane, Samir Ben Amor, Mokhtar Trifi, Anouar Kousri, Ali Ben Salem, Salah Hamzaoui, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, Hachemi Jegham, Omar Mestirti, Abdel Kader Ben Khemis, Abdel Wahab Maatar, Noureddine Bhiri, Ridha Barkati, Chokri Latif, Fathi Chamkhi, Mongi Ben Salah, Ayachi Hammami, Moncef Ben Salem.

Many Tunisian dissidents living abroad, particularly in France, such as Ahmed Manai, Mondher Sfar and Taher Labidi, have been harassed and physically assaulted during the past years by “unidentified” thugs.

Relatives and children of political or rights activists living in Tunisia or in exile and former prisoners of conscience, mainly Islamists, are among the favorite targets of the Tunisian police.  Many Tunisians have also paid a heavy price, varying from losing their job to imprisonment for simply assisting some of the needy families of imprisoned Islamist activists.

– Slim Boukhdhir; assaulted and harassed
Boukhdhir was assaulted during a news conference on 7 August 2004 by thugs allegedly close to one of President Ben Ali’s brothers-in-law.  Subsequently he lost his job as contributor to “Akhbar Al-Joumhurya” (News of the Republic) and was harassed and received threats over the phone warning him against going public with his case.

– Lotfi Hajji and Mahmoud Dhaouadi; harassed
Hajji and Dhaouadi are respectively the chair and the secretary general of the Tunisian Syndicate of Journalists established in May 2004. They were summoned on 16 August by the Director of the Political Affairs at the Ministry of the Interior who questioned the legal grounds of the new syndicate and its issuing of press releases.

Hajji and Dhaoudi told the government official that under the Labor Code, no authorization is needed to establish a syndicate.

On the other hand, Hajji, who is a former sub-editor of the weekly Realites and known for his independent views was in 2004 denied accreditation as correspondent of the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera.  The Tunisian External Communication Agency informed Al-Jazeera of the decision to deny Hajji accreditation.

Tunisia is one of the few countries in the world to have refused to allow Al-Jazeera to have an office in Tunis.]

– Fatih Chamki, spokesperson of the Tunisian section of the Tunisian section of the Rally for an International Alternative of Development (le Rassemblement pour une alternative internationale de developpement, RAID-Tunisie), also known as the Tunisian section of ATTAC, was prevented from attending a meeting of the Tunisian League of Human Rights on 16 January. Early in the morning, Chamkhi informed the representatives of the six organizations of IFEX visiting Tunisia that he had unexpectedly found himself under house arrest.

He explained over the phone that as he was about to start his car’s engine, three police cars circled his vehicle to prevent him from going anywhere. He was about to depart to attend a meeting of the Kairouan section of the Tunisian League for Human Rights. The city of Kairouan is nearly 140 kilometers south of Tunis. One of the policemen made it clear to Chamkhi that he had better not go anywhere this day.

Chamkhi, concerned that should he ignore this instruction, he would risk facing police brutality, decided to stay home that day. Sarah Carr, representative of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and Alexis Krikorian begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting (IPA) volunteered to pay a visit to Chamkhi’s home in the southern suburbs of Tunis to have a clear idea how civil society activists’ freedom of movement is violated in Tunisia.

Hundreds of former political prisoners are like journalist Abdallah Zouari under constant police surveillance and unable to leave the area where they are residing without prior authorization from the police. Zouari was closely followed by a Toyota car with two pain-clothed policemen when he came to meet with us at the entrance of his village on a motor bike on 18 January. The police car followed him when he led us first to his home and later to meet with the parents and relatives of the Youth of Zarzis.

Many of the political and human rights activists who came to meet with the delegates representing IFEX members at a hotel in Tunis were followed by plain-clothed policemen. Plain-clothed police were closely watching the hotel and our visitors day and night during our stay. The whereabouts of the IFEX delegation were constantly monitored by police officers.

Human rights defenders and political activists and former political prisoners and their close relatives are often denied the right to travel, even though they have a passport. Many of them resorted to hunger strikes during the past years before the Tunisian authorities accepted often under international pressure to hand them their passports or allow them to leave the country. The longest hunger strike was launched in 2000 by journalist Taoufik Ben Brik after he was prevented from travelling to France.

Among Tunisian rights defenders currently denied the right to leave the country are Mokhtar Yahyaoui and Mohamed Nouri. The authorities fabricated legal cases to prevent them from travelling. Human rights groups believe that the legal cases are politically motivated and in violation of the right to freedom of expression and movement.

The persons in charge of truly independent associations and political groups whether acknowledged or not by the authorities seem to be regularly followed by the Police.

6. Lack of pluralism in broadcast ownership, with only one private radio broadcaster and one private TV broadcaster.
The decision made public by President Ben Ali on 7 November 2003 to open the audiovisual sector to private initiative, for the first time since the independence of the country, left many Tunisians indifferent.

Even the state-controlled Tunisian Association of Journalists (AJT) noted, in its report on the state of the press in 2003, the lack of transparency which characterized the decision to single out Radio Mosaique as the first private radio station.

“It has been privileged to go on the air in the absence of general guidelines for all candidates willing to establish a private radio station,” said AJT in its report which was distributed mainly outside the country.

The Tunisian Human rights League (LTDH) said the Tunisian authorities ignored Article 20 of the Communications Code which stipulates that invitations to tender should be brought to the public attention via the press.

LTDH whose report “Media under Watch” has been prepared by a group of independent journalists and a media expert, described Nour Eddine Boutar, owner of Radio Mosaique, as “a former journalist for the daily Eshourouq who has distinguished himself by his absolute and zealous allegiance to the power in place.”

Radio Mosaique broadcasts four brief news bulletins per day and airs President Ben Ali’s full speeches after consulting with the official news agency TAP.  During the electoral campaign in October 2004, the station favored President Ben Ali over his challengers. Only information promoting Ben Ali and his party was on air.

The announcement in February 2004 that the first private TV channel, Hannibal TV, has started trial broadcasts raised more concerns about the absence of transparency regarding the gradual privatization of the broadcasting media. As in the case of Radio Mosaique, Tunisians were once again kept in the dark about the guidelines and the criteria adopted by the government in favour of Larbi Nasra, the apparent owner of Hannibal TV, over other potential candidates.

Unlike Boutar, Nasra is not known among journalists and civil society activists. In an interview dated 20  April 2004 with the privately-owned weekly Al Hadath (the event), believed to be close to the Ministry of the Interior), he said about 30 per cent of Hannibal TV’s programs “will be dedicated to social topics and women’s issues.”  He added that “the rest of the programming will initially include entertainment, sports and culture.”

At least six Tunisians, including Zyed El Heni of the state-owned “As-Sahafa” (the press) and Rachid Khechana correspondent of Al-Hayat in Tunis and editor of the opposition weekly El Maoukif, have submitted requests for the launch of private radio stations.  Khechana also applied in March for the authorization to launch a private TV channel. None of these have been provided with a decision on their requests, nor any reason for not providing a decision.

Although Tunisian citizens are required by the law to pay a licence fee to the Tunisian Radio and Television Broadcasting Corporation (Etablissement de la Radio et television Tunisiennes) through the electricity and gas bill, they have no influence on the government controlled-media.  Tunisians tend to watch Arab satellite channels more than Channel 7 and Channel 21, respectively targeting adults and young people.  The national radio, with its international program in foreign languages and five regional stations lacks quality and credibility.

Opposition and civil society groups took to the streets in February and March 2004 to protest the firm control imposed by the authorities on the public radio and TV stations and to assert their right to freedom of expression.

7. Press censorship and lack of diversity of content in newspapers.
President Ben Ali has publicly criticized Tunisian journalists for practicing self-censorship while his aides were tightening the screws on the media and silencing by various means independent journalists and harassing foreign correspondents.  In May 2000, nearly three weeks after calling on journalists to take their courage with both hands and free themselves from the shackles of self-censorship, Riadh Ben Fadhel, a businessman and former editor of the Arabic edition of the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique was shot and seriously wounded by unknown gunmen.  The attack, which took place in front of Ben Fadhel’s home near the Presidential Palace in Carthage, “bore the hallmark of an attempted extrajudicial execution,” said international human rights groups. It occurred following the publication by Le Monde of an opinion piece in which Ben Fadhel criticized the government.  To date, no light has been shed on this attempted murder which had a chilling effect on independent journalists and rights and democracy advocates.

Throughout Tunisia’s recent history many journalists working for the state-owned media have often resisted pressure from the government to turn them into mere tools of propaganda and denounced excessive censorship. In the 1980s they played a key role in turning the Tunisian Association of Journalists into one of the most independent associations of its kind in the region.

On 9 March 2004, a group of journalists working for the state-owned dailies La Presse an Essahafa took everybody by surprise. In a letter to government officials, including Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, and also to civil society groups, they noted “a return in force of the policy of censorship and of pressure on their writings.”

They explained in their letter, a copy of which was sent to the Tunisian Human Rights League and quoted in its report “Media under Watch”, how certain common censorship practices such as the “distortion of articles and the misrepresentation of their content” were committed by their editors. The latter acknowledged that they were acting upon instructions from a high-ranking official, but they declined to identify the source of these instructions.

They added that “things have come to such a state that certain articles of political analysis and commentary are censored, with the general director of La Presse  declaring time and again that a journalist has no longer any relationship whatsoever with his/her article once he/she has submitted it to the newspaper officials”.

Censorship has gained so much ground in “recent months”, according to the authors of the letter, that it affects all issues and events, even dictating which they are asked to cover. In 2004, editors received instructions to print only the official versions of events, including disasters such as the devastating flood which severely hit the country, the outbreak of a disease transmitted by mosquitoes, and President Ben Ali’s controversial decision to postpone the Arab League Summit in Tunis.

Instructions to editors of state-owned or privately-owned papers to continue to turn a blind eye to cases of torture in police custody and hunger strikes of political prisoners and activists are incessant. Two privately-owned dailies refused in December to run a paid advertisement by the Tunisian section of Amnesty International paying tribute to the memory of Ahmed Othmani, a former Tunisian political prisoner and the first Arab to play a leading role in the London-based human rights movement. Coverage of local human rights groups, whether granted legal status or not, and their activities are still considered as “red lines.”

According to the Tunisian External Communication Agency, “90 per cent of newspapers are privately-owned and editorially independent.” However, over the past 15 years both state-owned and privately owned papers have been competing in praising President Ben Ali’s policies and attacking his critics.

All papers and particularly privately-owned papers are kept on a leash through the Tunisian External Communication Agency (ATCE) which controls placement of advertising in the public and semi-private sectors in the country. Minor opposition groups which support President Ben Ali’s policies were granted seats at the Chamber of Deputies and are entitled to receive allocations from the ATCE to cover their media expenses. The Progressive Democratic Party, which publishes the weekly Al-Maoukif (the position), is not treated as generously as the other five parties mainly because of its critical attitude vis-à-vis the government.

Reflecting the government’s displeasure with them, Al-Maoukif and also Attariq El-Jedid must often wait for more than 24 hours at the printing house before getting authorization for distribution from the Ministry of the Interior.

According to the Tunisian Human Rights League, ”censorship and disinformation have not spared high-ranking foreign officials.” The American Information Centre in Tunis reacted, for instance, to the fabrication by local media of remarks attributed to Secretary of State Colin Powell during his December 2003 visit to Tunis by distributing the full version of his remarks.  Mr. Powell never referred to “the remarkable progress made in the field of human rights,” but only spoke of “achievements made in the field of women’s rights and education.”

The Tunisian government also continues to block the distribution of foreign papers and magazines. It also delays the distribution of some of them, sometimes for several days.  To avoid such recurring obstacles and bans, the London-based Al-Hayat decided to boycott the thorny Tunisian market.

Tunisian papers are also instructed to rely heavily on the state-owned news agency, Tunis-Afrique-Presse (TAP), particularly with regard to local news and the activities of President Ben Ali, who gets front page coverage. Sycophantic pieces about President Ben Ali’s “remarkable achievements in education, economic growth, liberties and women’s progress” are regularly paid for by the Tunisian government in different papers, particularly in the Middle East, not as advertisements, but purporting to be news stories. These pieces are later run by Tunisian dailies and quoted extensively by the State-run radio and TV stations.

There was more diversity in the print media before President Ben Ali came to power in 1987. Three independent papers were silenced one after the other: Errai (the opinion) in 1987, the Phare (the lighthouse) and the Maghreb in the early 1990s.  The editor of Le Maghreb, Omar S’habou was imprisoned for nearly one year following a politically motivated trial. He took refuge in France after his release.  Two opposition papers, the Islamist weekly Al-Fajr (the Dawn) and the leftist weekly Al-Badil (the Alternative) were also silenced in 1991. Their respective editors, Hamadi Jebali and Hamma Hammami were imprisoned following politically motivated trials. Two political periodicals, “Outrouhat” (Thesis) and “15-21” also vanished from the newsstands at the end of the 1980s.

The unprecedented crackdown on opposition and human rights groups and independent journalism in the early 1990s led several journalists to leave the country.  Many applications to publish newspapers or magazines continue to be ignored by the Ministry of the Interior.  But not all of them are documented by local rights groups.  The list of applicants includes, according to the LTDH, the following:

Name of the Paper/Magazine            Applicant

“Maqassed” (aims)                    Mohamed Talbi
“Kalima” (word)                      Sihem Ben Sedrine
“Alternatives Citoyennes”            Nadia Omran
“La Maghrebine”                      Nora Borsali
“El Adib” (the literary man)         Abdellatif Fourati

Research on Monitoring the Coverage of the October 2004 Elections in Tunisia conducted by three Tunisian Human rights groups in cooperation with the Copenhagen-based International Media Support confirmed that there is still very little room for pluralism in the media.  The Tunisian groups involved in this research were the Tunisian League for Human Rights, the Tunisian Association for Democratic women and the National Council for Freedom in Tunisia.

“The media largely served the ruling party at the expense of democracy and the public interest. Ultimately, the failure of the media is a failure of the Tunisian political system to comply with international standards in this field,” concluded the Tunisian and international researchers.

8. Use of torture by the security services with impunity.
Although the Tunisian government repeatedly trumpets that “torture is forbidden” and Tunisia “has freely ratified all international conventions banning torture,” local and international human rights groups have been documenting hundreds of cases of torture, particularly in police custody during the past years.

Under the Penal Code, torture is a crime punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment.  Yet, Tunisian detainees, including civil society activists, continue to be tortured and subjected to degrading treatment at the hands of security forces.

Only few cases of torture out of hundreds have been investigated over the past decade. The Committee against Torture, which monitors adherence to the international Convention against Torture expressed concern over “the pressure and intimidation used by officials to prevent the victims from lodging complaints.”

Scores of political activists have died under torture or lack of medical care while in police custody or in prison during the past fifteen years. Many former political prisoners of different trends, including Islamists and leftists tortured before and after President Ben Ali seized power, have said torture sessions have become far crueller after President Bourguiba’s eviction in 1987.

The Tunisian Human Rights League reported on 14 January 2005 that Lotfi Idoudi, a former leading figure of the Tunisian General Union of Students (Islamist) and political prison died mainly because of “lack of medical attention.”

Members of the IFEX delegation met with several victims of torture in police custody and while in prison, including Zouhair Yahyaoui, Abdallah Zouari, Fathi Chamkhi, and Sahnoun Jouhri, as well as with lawyers whose clients, including civil society activists, have been tortured.  They also met with the parents of the Youth of Zarzis and their lawyers who said their children have been tortured and forced under duress to sign affidavits.  They added that they were in poor health and imprisoned in horrendous conditions.

Zouhaier Yahyaoui explained how he was beaten while suspended from the ceiling by his hands, ill-treated and denied medical care. The judge who convicted him on charges of “spreading false news” and “misuse of telecommunication lines” rejected his lawyers’ call to investigate the allegations of torture.

Radhia Nasraoui, one of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers and head of the banned Association for the Struggle against Torture in Tunisia (Association de lutte contre la torture en Tunisie) said one of the members of her group was tied to the ceiling by a cord and his feet were up and his head down and regularly plunged by his torturers into a basin full of stinking water. “They did not stop torturing him until he started vomiting blood,” she said.

According to Nasraoui, “torture is a daily practice in every police station.  Thousands of political prisoners have been tortured during the past years, but also others who have nothing to do with politics.”  This opinion is shared by many other human rights lawyers as well as international human rights organizations.

Nasraoui has gone on hunger strike often to protest attacks on her right to freedom of movement and expression and to protest police harassment of her clients, children, political activist husband Hamma Hammami.  She has often been denied the right to visit her clients in prison because of her unwavering determination to keep public opinion informed about gross human rights violations.

Nasraoui wondered “why the WSIS is going to take place in a country where people can die for expressing an opinion and where independent newspapers and magazines are not allowed, or if some are allowed they have to be very careful about what they say?”

She said activists like she who are denied the right to freedom of expression and association “can only take the opportunity of the WSIS to put this question to those who are going to participate in the summit.”

C.     CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Nearly 49 years ago, Tunisia granted unparalleled rights to women in the Arab world and made significant steps toward combating illiteracy, poverty, and prejudices.

The Tunisian press played a key role in paving the way for the independence of the country from France in 1956. Despite President Bourguiba’s autocratic rule, Tunisian civil society was one of the most vibrant civil societies in North Africa and the Middle East until President Ben Ali seized power in 1987. The Tunisian Human Rights League, the first of its kind in Africa and the Arab world, was established in 1977.

President Ben Ali promised to lead the country toward democracy after evicting his autocratic and charismatic predecessor.  Nearly 18 years later, Tunisians of different trends, including human rights defenders, Islamists, leftists and former ministers, maintain that civil society has never been so stifled and journalists so muzzled since the country’s independence.

Ben Ali’s government used the outbreak of violence in Algeria in 1992 and later the terror attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, as an excuse to crackdown on political dissent and independent journalism. The number of political activists who died under torture or due to lack of medical attention and the number of books banned and independent papers silenced is unprecedented in the country’s recent history.

To date the Tunisian media, the Internet, and the publishing sector are governed by laws that violate Article 19 and often the Constitution of the country and are controlled by the Ministry of the Interior which decides what Tunisians can safely watch, read, and say.

The economic and social development made possible mainly by the political decisions, taken nearly 50 years ago, to grant women unequalled rights and to pave the way for the emergence of the largest middle-class in the region, are used by the government to shield itself from criticism regarding its poor human rights record.

The huge investment of the Tunisian government in its public relations campaign led many for years, particularly in Western capitals, to take for granted the Tunisian government’s rhetoric on democracy. But the decision to hold the second phase of the WSIS in Tunis puts the international spotlight on the serious deficit in freedom of expression and human rights in Tunisia.

Cosmetic changes will not be an acceptable solution.

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.

The IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group urges the Tunisian authorities to implement the following recommendations:

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 have been sentenced following unfair trials 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 towards 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.

ANNEX 1

Open Letter

 

His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan
Secretary General of the United Nations
United Nations Organisation

New York, NY10017 – USA

cc.   Mr Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary General, ITU

Mr Koichiro Matsuura, Director General, UNESCO

 

Baku, 18 June 2004

 

Dear Sir

 

We, freedom of expression organisations assembled at the General Meeting of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) in Baku, Azerbaijan on18 June 2004, write to express our deep and continuing concerns about plans to hold the UN World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in 2005.

 

At the conclusion of the first phase of the WSIS, the Intergovernmental Summit in Geneva adopted a Declaration of Principles affirming the centrality of human rights and freedom of expression as fundamental principles for the information society.

 

Despite this, the Tunisian government continues to violate its commitments under the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. The broadcast media remain dominated by the state, websites and newspapers critical of the government have been blocked or are prevented from publishing, censorship of the Internet is routine practice and Tunisia continues to imprison its citizens for exercising their freedom of expression.

 

We urge the United Nations and Member States to change the venue of the World Summit on the Information Society unless the government of Tunisia makes substantial progress on respect for human rights and freedom of expression. The following are basic and essential benchmarks for progress before holding the Summit in Tunisia:

 

1.                The recognition of and respect for the unfettered right of human rights and other civil society groups including freedom of expression organisations to operate freely in Tunisia.

2.                The dropping of charges against and the release of individuals jailed for exercising their right to freedom of expression consistently with international human rights law.

3.                Reform of the media and communications environment including the right to establish independent media outlets and uncensored access to the Internet.

 

In addition we require clear guarantees concerning the Summit itself:

 

4.                That all local and international human rights and other civil society organisations are free to participate in the Summit and to publish, broadcast or otherwise distribute and to receive material at and from the conference site without threat or practice of any form of censorship.

5.                That local and international media will be able to report freely and without interference from the Summit including directly from the conference site.

 

We call on the United Nations and Member States to insist that the Tunisian government make these guarantees concerning the Summit itself and that it commit to substantial and measurable progress with respect to the benchmarks that we have set out above.

 

In the event that the Tunisian government is unwilling to make such commitments we urge the Secretary General of the United Nations to recommend the General Assembly reconsider its decision to hold the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia.

 

Yours,

 

Africa Free Media Foundation (AFMF)

ARTICLE 19

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)

Cartoonists Rights Network, International (CRN)

Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES)

Central Asian and Southern Caucasus Freedom of Expression Network (CASCFEN)

Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES)

Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala (CERIGUA)

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR)

Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa  (Foundation for Press Freedom)

Freedom House

Free Media Movement (FMM)

Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI)

Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM)

Independent Journalism Centre (IJC), Moldova

Index on Censorship

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

International Press Institute (IPI)

Journaliste en danger (Journalist in Danger, JED)

Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)

Media Rights Agenda

Norwegian PEN

PERIODISTAS, la Asociación para la Defensa del Periodismo Independiente

Reporters sans frontières (RSF)

Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

Thai Journalists Association (TJA)

World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)

World Association of Newspapers (WAN)

World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)

ANNEX 2

 

 

List of blocked websites providing news, politics and information on Tunisia as at 16 January 2005.[1]
http://www.rezoweb.com/forum/politique/nokta.shtml

– Tunisia alternative political discussion board
http://www.rsf.fr/
http://www.rsf.org/

– website of international press freedom defenders, Reporters Sans Frontieres
http://www.tunezine.com/

– Tunisian news and comment, editor was imprisoned
http://www.nahdha.net/

– website of banned Tunisian Islamist An-Nahdha movement
http://www.tunisnews.net/

– Tunisian oppositional news and politics
http://www.maghreb-ddh.org/

– Tunisian oppositional news and politics
http://www.albadil.org/

– online newspaper of the banned Tunisian Communist Workers Party
http://www.alternatives-citoyennes.sgdg.org/

– Tunisian independent/alternative news and information
http://www.tunisie2004.net/

– Tunisian oppositional politics, news, linked to the CPR (unrecognized political party)
http://www.cprtunisie.com/

– «official» website of the Tunisian CPR (Congress for the Republic, unrecognized)
http://tounes.naros.info/

– Tunisian oppositional politics, linked to the independent Democratic Initiative
http://www.globalprevention.com/marzouki.htm

– website of exiled Tunisian human rights defender, Moncef Marzouki
http://www.nawaat.org/

– Tunisian oppositional news and politics
http://www.perspectivestunisiennes.net/

– Tunisian oppositional news and politics
http://www.verite-action.org/

– website of Swiss NGO campaigning for human rights in Tunisia
http://www.maghreb-ddh.sgdg.org/www/

– Tunisian oppositional news and politics
http://www.multimania.com/solidarite26

– solidarity with Tunisian political prisoners
http://www.reveiltunisien.org/

– Tunisian oppositional politics, news, satire
http://www.kalimatunisie.com/

– «the Word», independent Tunisian news and politics
http://www.rsf.org/

– website of international press freedom defenders, Reporters Sans Frontieres

 

ANNEX 3[2]

List of censored books in Tunisia[3] as of January 2005. Established by the League of Free Writers (Ligue des écrivains libres).

Abdel Rahmane Abid, “De l’orientation démocratique et de la réconciliation nationale”, Political study, Tunis, 1989 (in Arabic);

Ibrahim Darghouthi, “Le pain amer”, novels in Arabic, Dar Samed, 1990;

Abdel Jabbar Al Ich, “Poèmes pour l’Irak”, coedition Dar Samed (Tunisia) and Dar al Hikme (Algeria), 1991;

Fadhel Sassi (Martyr of the “bread events”, January 1984), “Mon destin est de partir”, poems and stories chosen by Sabah Sassi and Jelloul Azzouna, Edition journal Al-Cha’ab, 1994;

Tawkik al Bachrouch, “Notre femme à travers nos fetwas”, (cent fetwas sur mille ans),

Mohamed el Hédi Ben Sabach, “Le retour de Azza, l’émigrée”, 235 page novel, Edition Bouzid, 1994;

Mohamed Al Chabbi, “Un témoin a dit”, poems, Edition Al Akhilla, 1999;

Sadok Charaf, “La grand catastrophe, ô ma patrie”, poem, Al Akhilla, 1990;

Mohamed Falbi, “Les enfants d’Allah”[4];

“Le musulman à travers l’histoire”, collective research work, Faculté des Lettes, La Manouba;

Afif Al Bouni, “De la stabilité politique en Tunisie”, 1997;

Tawfik Ben Brik, “Maintenant, écoute-moi”, poems, Exils et Aloès Editions, 2000;

Tawfik Ben Brik[5], “Ben Brik au Palais”, Maison Al Kaws – Al Nahar (Tunis-Beirut coedition), 2000;

Mohamed Ammar Khawaldya, “Le discours utile sur le nouveau régime”, Edition à compte d’auteur, 2001;

Ali Azizi “Les ailes du silence”, novel, 2001;

Moncef Marzouki. His books, published in Tunis, are withdrawn from bookshops. He had to publish his novel (“Le voyage”) in France and Syria in 2002. 3 volumes. (Eurabe – Al Ahali, 206 pages x 3);

Hamma Hammami. At least 10 books of his, printed and distributed in Tunis, were withdrawn from bookshops and public libraries dependent upon the Ministry of Culture. He had to publish his latest book in France.

Jelloul Azzouna, “Liberté et littérature, même identité” (studies and articles), Dar Sahar, 232 pages, 2002;

Abdelwahab al Mansouri, “Rien ne me plait”, Poems, 2003;

Samir Ta’mallah, “Dits en marge de l’interrogatoire”, poems;

Jalel al Touibi, “Militant malgré lui”, novel, 123 pages, 1995 (2nd edition, 2004, 176 pages)[6].

 

[1] Testing was carried out through direct testing of the Tunisian Internet Service Provider 3S GlobalNet. Similar results were produced through proxy tests of four other Internet Service Providers in Tunisia (CIMSP, ATI Dial-up, ATI, ATI Network VI). Technical support was provided by the OpenNet Initiative, a partnership between the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, and the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme at Cambridge University.

[2] Not exhaustive, but accurate list

[3] During the Bourguiba period (1956-1987), the authorities have seized around 10 books. These books have been either distributed or reprinted after 7 November 1987.

[4] Authorized first, then seized and finally authorized again.

[5] All of Ben Brik’s books are prohibited in Tunisia; “Une si douce dictature”, Aloès – La découverte coedition, 287 pages, 2000; “Le rire de la baleine”, (récit), Le seuil (188 pages), 2001; Le fou de Tunis, le seuil; Chronique du mouchard, la découverte, 2001 (124 pages); Ben Brik President, Exils, 2003; The plagieur, Exils, 2004 (117 pages)

[6] The last two books are published and distributed clandestinely. They do not go through the “legal depot” process

IPA REPORT ON FREEDOM TO PUBLISH AND UNRESTRICTED FLOW OF INFORMATION IN TURKEY

UNION INTERNATIONALE DES EDITEURS/INTERNATIONALE  VERLEGER/UNION INTERNATIONAL PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION/UNION INTERNACIONAL DE EDITORES

IPA STATUS REPORT ON FREEDOM TO PUBLISH AND UNRESTRICTED FLOW OF INFORMATION IN TURKEY – UP TO 12 JULY 2004

I. SUMMARY:
IPA is very much concerned about: 1. the legal impediments to the practice of the right to freedom of expression in Turkey; 2. the current tendency of Turkish Security Courts to harass writers, journalists and publishers by putting them on trial more and more often, fining them or just postponing trials indefinitely; 3. the implementation problem.

IPA therefore calls upon the Turkish authorities to repeal all the incriminating legislation that impose heavy fines and prison sentences against writers and publishers solely for criticizing the Turkish State or tackling one of the many taboos that plague Turkish society (Position of the Military, Kurdish Question, Armenian Genocide, Kemalism, Women’s Liberation and Islamic Law): Articles 159, 169, 312 of the Turkish Penal Code, Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law, Law 5816 (Protecting Atatürk’s memory), Article 81 of the Copyright Law. It is unacceptable to treat writers, journalists and publishers as potential terrorists/criminals and to judge them in the same courts as drug traffickers and/or real terrorists. State Security Courts (SSCs) should be abolished for real, in particular for creators and publishers of content. A name change is not enough.

While welcoming the legislative and constitutional changes in Turkey (e.g.: Repeal of Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law), the IPA calls upon the Turkish authorities to implement the many reforms that were passed (e.g.: Trials still take place in abolished SSCs). Many changes have occurred in Turkey in terms of Freedom of expression, but seeing that a certain law article lifted after a great struggle returns under another name or just through practice is frustrating. Implementation is key and must not surrender to bureaucratic conservatism or any other hurdle.
II. IPA’s ACTIVITIES IN RELATION TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN TURKEY – Q4 2003 UP TO NOW

*  IPA trial observation mission (Istanbul SSC # 3, 1-4 December 2003) to attend Ragip Zarakolu’s trial in the “12 September regime under trial” case. Ragip Zarakolu acquitted;
*   At the request of the Turkish Publishers Association (TPA), joint IPA/International PEN protest letter to Turkish authorities regarding the latest draft of Press Law # 4757 (17 December 2003);
* At the request of TPA, 30 March 2004 joint letter with the International Booksellers Federation (IBF) against the “banderole system[1]”;
* Joint IPA/International PEN round tables on Civil and Political Rights in Turkey (7-8 April 2004, United Nations Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR), Geneva);
* Joint IPA/International PEN oral statement before the UNCHR under item 11 (civil and political rights). Subject: Freedom of expression in Turkey. Legislative changes welcomed. Continued harassment of publishers denounced.
*       27th Congress of the IPA (Berlin, 21-24 June 2004): Speakers of the Freedom to Publish session included: Müge Sökmen, Director of the Turkish WiPC, Director Metis Publishers: “FTP in Turkey”.

III. FREEDOM TO PUBLISH IN TURKEY IN 2004: THE LAW AND THE PRACTICE

1. 2003-2004 Freedom to Publish Figures
Last year, according to the report of the TPA, 43 books were banned and 37 writers and 17 publishers were put on trial. Main confiscation grounds were minority issues, obscenity, and the expression of opinions regarding the practices of the State and its officials. The Association states that this year fewer cases are opened against publishers and authors, and more trials result in acquittal.

2. Article 426 of the Turkish Penal Code: An amendment that underlines the implementation problem
In 2003, Article 426[2] of the Turkish Penal Code (TPC) was referred to to confiscate and ban books (as well as newspapers, magazines, articles, ads, pictures, films…) by Elfride Jelinek, Jonathan Ames, Pedro Almodovar or Irvine Welsh, on the grounds of obscenity. On the one hand, Istanbul Peace Penal Court # 1 ordered the confiscation of the book «Enough, Don’t Hurt My Skin» by Meltem Arikan (publisher: Everest Publishing House) in February 2004 following an order from the “Committee to Protect Minors from Obscene Publications» based on Article 426 of the TPC. On the other hand, Metis Publishing’s “Women’s slang dictionary”, which had been put to court for obscenity, was acquitted in June 2004. Article 426 has been amended so as to exclude scientific and artistic works and works of literary value from the scope of this article. But as the «Committee to Protect Minors from Obscene Publications», a body established under the Prime Ministry to work as official experts for judicial bodies in “obscenity cases” is not abolished, we ought to remain cautious. If official expertise remains in the hands of a committee linked to the government, the risk of political and/or ideological decisions continues[3].

3. State Security Courts (SSCs) abolished: A step forward?
SSCs succeeded Martial Law Courts in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup. In June 2004, the Turkish Parliament removed the SSC from Turkey’s Constitution. However, the authorities have failed to specify what would happen to trials already under way. Besides, it is unclear yet what courts will succeed the SSCs and what they will be named[4]. As recently as 15 June 2004, Abdurrahman Dilipak[5], journalist and author, was tried at a SSC for criticising some generals in an article entitled: «When the Generals are not obedient». His lawyers declared that, given the recent changes in the law, it was impossible for Mr. Dilipak to be judged before a SSC. As a consequence, the case was adjourned until 12 July 2004. The case would have been deferred to a civilian court in Bakirkoy.

The trial of Publisher Ragip Zarakolu, initially due to take place on 26 May 2004, was postponed to 10 September 2004 by a SSC. According to information received from Turkey, the mere presence of foreign observers[6] would have led to this decision. Publisher Ragip Zarakolu is being accused for having written an article questioning the goals of Turkish foreign policy in Iraq. Since the SSCs are now removed from Turkey’s Constitution, Ragip Zarakolu risks being judged and convicted in absentia (he will be attending the PEN Congress in Norway) by a non-existing court on 10 September 2004!

4. Article 312[7] of the Turkish Penal Code: An uncertain future
There have been several acquittals in Article 312 cases («incitement to hatred on the basis of class, religion or race»). This article has been used as a way to penalise writers and publishers who support minority issues. One example of this is the acquittal of Ömer Asan’s “Pontus Culture” (Belge Pub.). Gazi Çağlar’s «12 September is Being Judged» (Belge Pub.) was also acquitted on 3 December 2003. A TPA report states that the acquittals of Jwadie’s «Historical Roots and Development of Kurdish Nationalism» (İletişim), Naci Kutlay’s «Kurds in the eve of 21st Century» (Peri), Tori’s «Famous Kurdish Scientists and Intellectuals» (Sorun) and «Mustafa Barzani and Kurdish Liberation Movement» (Doz) show the positive climate surrounding the Kurdish issue further to the latest reforms.

Despite this obvious improvement, cases of «judicial harassment» continue: Ahmet Kahraman’s «Kurdish Resurrection» is still being tried and publisher Ahmet Onal’s acquittal in a 312 case was appealed by the Supreme Court of Appeal (book accused: “Alevism in Dersim”). Not only was the acquittal decision quashed by the Court of Appeal, but he was also brought to court on two new separate cases (Art. 159 TPC and Atatürk’s memory).

A very important step may have been taken in late June this year. Indeed, Attorney General for Supreme Court of Appeals would have publicly stated that this Article should be re-evaluated and advised that all cases tried under this Article should be freed unless there is an open and evident call for violence.

5. Article 159[8] of the Turkish Penal Code
This article still creates many freedom of expression problems in Turkey. Just to give one recent example, the re-print of Fikret Başkaya’s book «Articles against the Current» has been put to court under this article and the case will continue on 9 September 2004. Another case is that of publisher Ali Varis who is currently on trial for “Anatolia – from multiculturalism to monoculturalism”.

6. Minority issues
“Allegations of genocide against Armenians and Kurds” is a ground that is sometimes brought against writers and publishers. This is for instance the case of publisher Ali Varis and writer Mamo Bayram for the book entitled: “Kocgiri – Northwest Dersim”. This book is banned. Mr. Varis faces the risk of imprisonment.

The premises of Agos weekly newspaper, published in both Armenian and Turkish, were threatened by a group of extremist demonstrators on 26 February 2004 because of an article about Sabiha Gökçen, Turkey’s first woman pilot and Atatürk’s adopted daughter, which claimed that she had Armenian roots.

7. Protecting Atatürk’s memory
Having been found guilty of violating the 1951 Law protecting Atatürk’s memory (Law 5816) for an article he wrote in Milli Gazete, journalist Hakan Albayrak is currently serving a 15 months prison sentence. Herkül Milas’s book «Exile» based on the memories of the Greeks that were expelled from Anatolia during the compulsory exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1924 was also tried for «insulting Atatürk’s memory».

8. Article 8 repealed, but Article 7 and Article 169 of TPC used instead
Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law, prosecuting writers and publishers on the grounds of «advocating terrorist propaganda» was repealed last year. We had called for it. So we do welcome this. However, Article 7 of the same law and Article 169 of the TPC are used instead.  («Aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation»)[9].

Following the repeal of Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law, Ismail Besikci, author of numerous books on Kurdish issues, and his publisher Unsal Ozturk of Yurt Publishers, applied to the State Security Court in Ankara on 30 July 2003 for a formal appeal for annulment of the court decision on the confiscation of 20 book titles[10] which had been confiscated under Article 8. However, the Ankara SSCs # 1 and 2 rejected two separate applications in December 2003 and January 2004 almost entirely, lifting the confiscation order only for 5 of the titles on the ground that “contents of the confiscated books still carry the elements of crimes defined in Article 312/2 TPC and Article 7 Anti-Terror Law”.

9. Law on the Intellectual and Artistic Properties (1951 Copyright Law # 5846): A potential tool for censorship
The Ministry of Culture administers the banderole system as set out in law # 4630 (2001) amending the 1951 Copyright law. The certification procedure entails that all works must be submitted to the Ministry of Culture along with authorising contracts signed by the creators of the works in order to obtain a hologram sticker for each work. These stickers must be affixed to all copies of the works before they can be put on the market. The Ministry of Culture has the discretionary power to provide the said banderoles or not, thus exercising a form of pre-publication control over publishing activities in Turkey. Moreover, the control chain extends to booksellers, which have been requested, at times, to close their shops if they did not display the said stickers on the books they sell. Finally, the criminal sanctions[11] provided for failure to affix compulsory stickers to books have met with legitimate hostility from publishers, newspapers and some authors.

10. New Press Law: A step forward to be tested
«Yeniden Özgür Gündem» newspaper has had to close down on 28 February 2004, after 545 days of publication. During that period, the newspaper was closed down for 4 days, the editor in chief was imprisoned for 25 months and the newspaper has had to pay very high fines. Recently, «Dersim» newspaper was put to court for publishing Kurdish articles, not because they were in Kurdish, but because they had not stated in their formal application that they would be using Kurdish! This case, launched in February 2004 by the Izmir Penal Court of First Instance against Ali Ekber Coskun[12], Dersim’s editor-in-chief, has been postponed first to 27 April and second to 29 June 2004. According to information received from Turkey, the case has been postponed again. It is unclear when the next hearing will take place. Since the Press Law has just been changed, the impact on this case is yet to be seen.

The Press Law was amended by Parliament on 9 June 2004. Changes include:

The inclusion of § 2 of Art. 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights into the law (Art. 3[13]),

The decrease of fines, in particular for “administrative failures”,

An improvement in relation to the disclose of sources,

Restrictions to confiscations of books or periodicals subject to a judicial decision.

The changes above are most welcome. The Public Prosecutor can only confiscate three copies of a published work. Moreover, should he fail to get a judge’s approval within 48 hours, confiscation is abolished. However, should a book or a periodical be confiscated according to the following law articles, then all of the copies can be confiscated (subject to a judge’s decision): Crimes against Atatürk (5816), Constitution Art. 174 Crimes Concerning Republican Revolutions, Turkish Penal Code 146/2, 153/1 and 4, 155, 311/1 and 2, 312/2 and 4, 312/a, Anti-Terror Law Art. 7/2 and 5[14].

[1] The banderole system has failed this far to combat book piracy effectively and is accused by our Turkish colleagues to be a potential tool for censorship.  For more, see paragraph on copyright law, p 3.

[2] “Whoever exhibits obscene books, newspapers, pamphlets, magazines, documents, articles, advertisements, pictures, illustrations, photographs, movie films or other items; or who puts on stage or show these things in theatres, cinemas or other public places, or who knowingly distributes or sells or suffers them, or the photograph records of the same nature, to be distributed or sold, or who in order to make profit or to distribute or exhibit such items, draws, illustrates, carves, manufactures, prints, or reproduces such items, or records them on photograph records, or imports, exports or transports them form one locality to another in Turkey, or suffers the foregoing activities to be performed, or who performs any transaction respecting any of the foregoing objects, or performs any transaction to facilitate the trade thereof, or who, in any manner, makes publicly known the ways of procuring, directly or indirectly, these documents or items, shall be imprisoned for one month to two years and shall be sentenced to pay a heavy fine.”

[3] The feminist novel “Stop Hurting my Flesh” by Meltem Arikan based on true child abuse, incest and domestic violence cases was labeled a threat to the Turkish family system by the «Committee to Protect Minors from Obscene Publications» and was thus confiscated by the Istanbul 1 Magistrate Criminal Court. This confiscation order took place after the 1st July 2003 amendment to Art. 426 of the TPC. The so-called “immoral parts” have been removed from the 4th reprint of the novel.

[4] “In a trial scheduled at SSC # 2 in Ankara, the name of the court was amended to the Ankara Serious Crimes Court in the case files.”, http://www.cascfen.org/news.php?nid=107&cid=15. Such a name for the successor of SSCs is questionable. Is the accused more likely to be convicted in the end? Is the Military still involved in the running of these Serious Crimes Courts?

[5] Abdurrahman Dilipak had been sentenced to 18 months in jail for inciting religious hatred and discrimination in an article published in a June 2002 issue of the «Cuma» magazine by Istanbul SSC # 2. Dilipak’s penalty was deferred because he was not expected to re-offend.

[6] Including Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) Chair Eugene Schoulgin

[7] One who openly praises an action considered criminal under the law or speaks positively about it or incites people to disobey the law shall be sentenced from six months to two years of imprisonment and to a heavy fine.

[8] Those who publicly insult or ridicule Turkish national identity, the Republic, the Parliament, the Government, State Ministers, the Military, security forces of the State, or the Judiciary will be punished with a penalty of no less than six months (down from one year) security imprisonment. Another amendment ensures that expressions of thought undertaken solely for the purpose of criticism (and not insult) do not incur any penalties. Here, the assessment by the judge of the difference between criticism and insult leaves room for further abuse.

[9] The seventh package narrowed the scope of Article 169 of the Penal Code (“aiding and abetting terrorist organisations”) by removing the provision sanctioning “actions which facilitated the operation of terrorist organisations in any manner whatsoever”. The First Harmonisation Law amended the earlier version of the Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law so that, in order to punish the person(s) who were considered to have committed the offence of “making propaganda for the terrorist organisation”, the person(s) should have “advocated the use of methods of terror.” The heavy fines were also increased tenfold, from “50 million to 100 million liras” to “500 million to 1 billion liras.” The Seventh Harmonisation Law further amended this article, by adding the word “violence” into the definition of the breach of Article 7: if person(s) “advocated the use of violence and other methods of terror.”

[10] 2003 WiPC Report on Book Bannings in Turkey (released: April 2004); 8 titles out of 23 according to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, April 2004 Report,http://www.tihv.org.tr/eindex.html

[11] Article 81 – as amended in March 2001 – provides that infringements of banderole-regime products should result in a prison sentence from 4 to 6 years and a heavy fine from 50 to 150 billion Turkish Liras. It does not distinguish among street sellers, distributors and manufacturers of illegal products

[12] http://www.tihv.org.tr/report/2004_02/febthought.html

[13] «The press is free. This freedom covers getting, disseminating, criticizing and interpreting information and creating a work. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.»

[14] These are articles on crimes against the unity of the state, urging the soldiers to disobey, provoking the public to commit a crime, advocating crime, and terrorising the public.