Freedom of expression under siege in Tunisia

Repression of human rights in Tunisia, especially the freedom of expression, remains rampant, says a joint statement signed by several international communication organisations. It is the first time that this coalition of human rights organisations writes to incoming UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and expresses its concerns, a bit more than one year after Tunisia has hosted the World Summit on the Information Society.


Hosting the United Nations-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunisia, a country
where repression of human rights – in particular freedom of expression – is rampant, remains controversial. Kofi
Annan, then Secretary-General of the UN, stated that the holding of the WSIS in Tunisia offered "a good
opportunity for the Government of Tunisia to address various human rights concerns, including those related to
freedom of opinion and expression." More than one year after the WSIS was held in Tunisia, the Tunisian
government has clearly failed to do this, according to members of the International Freedom of Expression
Exchange (IFEX) Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG).

The 16 members of the IFEX-TMG are appealing to incoming UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to remind
the Government of Tunisia of its international obligations. "Tunisia, since being an elected member of the
newly-created United Nations Council of Human Rights, has an additional obligation to respect its international
commitments in the field of freedom of expression," say the members of the TMG.

"Sadly, the state of freedom of expression in Tunisia is as poor, if not poorer, in early 2007 as it was in late
2005 when the WSIS was held in Tunis," said Carl Morten Iversen, Secretary General of Norwegian PEN, and
Chair of the IFEX-TMG.

Members of the TMG remain deeply concerned by the ongoing harassment of writers, journalists, editors and
human rights defenders in Tunisia. Consequently, members of the TMG are once more calling the Tunisian
government to bring an immediate end to the persecution of writers, journalists, and human rights defenders,
including Sihem Bensedrine, Naziha Rjiba, Moncef Marzouki, Lotfi Hajji and Abdallah Zouari. In addition, they
are repeating their plea for the immediate and unconditional release of internet writer and lawyer Mohammed
Abbou who is currently serving a three-and-a-half year prison sentence for criticising Tunisian President Ben Ali
in an article posted on the Internet.

"To respect its international commitments, the Tunisian government should also release all banned books and
publications, should stop censoring books, and should put and end to the blocking of websites," said Ana Maria
Cabanellas, President of the International Publishers Association (IPA).

TMG members also highlighted concerns about the Tunisian government´s censorship of deadly clashes
between security forces and armed groups in the end of December 2006 and in early January 2007 in the
Southern suburbs of Tunis.

The IFEX-TMG therefore calls on the Tunisian authorities to allow writers, journalists, web loggers and
publishers to express themselves freely without fear of persecution or imprisonment in accordance with Article
19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR), to which Tunisia is a signatory.

Members of the IFEX-TMG are:

Arabic Human Rights Information Network (HRinfo), Egypt
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Index on Censorship, UK
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Belgium
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), The Netherlands
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
International Publishers’ Association (IPA), Switzerland
Journaliste en danger (JED), Democratic Republic of Congo
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Norwegian PEN, Norway
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), Canada
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), USA
Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC), UK

For further information, contact Carl Morten Iversen, Norwegian PEN, Tel: + 47 22479220,
Cellphone: + 47 926 88 023, E-mail:; or Alexis Krikorian, IPA, Tel: +41 22 346 30 18, E-mail:; Website:

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote
the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, which guarantees free speech.
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