Wednesday afternoon, November 17, the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH) invited the press and NGOs for what was to become a marathon of explicit talks challenging the Tunisian government on its human rights record. While heads of states’ speeches present at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) were pouring in on all TV channels, revolution was just around the corner in another district of Tunis.
Wednesday afternoon, November 17, the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH) invited the press and NGOs for what was to become a marathon of explicit talks challenging the Tunisian government on its human rights record.
While heads of states’ speeches present at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) were pouring in on all TV channels, revolution was just around the corner in another district of Tunis.
About 150 people showed up at the LTDH offices around 5 pm on Wednesday and were greeted by an impressive panel of human rights advocates.
Lawyer and human rights superstar Shirin Ebadi, the president of the LTDH, Mokhtar Trifi, the president of the International League of Human Rights, Sidiki Kaba, Steve Buckley of the World Community Radio Broadcasters Association, Rikke Jorgensen of the Danish Human Rights Institute and the mayor of the city of Geneva Manuel Tornare, all came to denounce the repressive atmosphere in Tunis.
“We are really sorry for us and all of you who have come from so far away to take part in the CSIS [the citizens’ summit planned to run parallel to the WSIS summit, Nov 16-18]. We are now obliged to cancel the event because the Tunisian government has done all that was in its reach to block it,” the host of the press conference, Mr. Trifi, started by saying.
Sidiki Kaba added, “We are here to express our total solidarity with the LTDH and all strikers, all prisoners, because they have said no to censorship, which is a reality. And you have had the most seizing proof of this when the president of Switzerland [Samuel Schmid] has been censored live, the very day this summit on information and information rights has been officially opened here in Tunis.”
“It is unacceptable that the UN still has members that harass or imprison their citizens because they criticise them on the internet. Freedom of speech has to be respected. Everyone has to be able to express their views freely. It is one of the crucial conditions for this conference to succeed…” were the last words Tunisians got to hear from Schmid on their TV sets, before a shampoo advertisement was broadcasted.
Many other speakers lined up after the official panel resumed. The panel literally exploded when an Italian parliamentarian, the president of the EU parliamentary delegation at WSIS, Catherine Trautman, and many others addressed the crowd.
The assembly transformed into a mini citizen’s summit with many Swiss, Italian, French, Canadian, local and other nationals joining in.
One of the last speakers, Sharon K. Hom from Human Rights in China, eloquently pointed out that “repressive governments lock-up activists and journalists because they are afraid of their own people and of democracy.” “This fear is not enough to defeat the courage that you see in this room,” she finished by saying.
Coming back for a more incisive speech at the end of the evening, Shirin Ebadi invited everyone to meet on Thursday morning (November 17) in solidarity with Tunisian hunger strikers.
Seven Tunisian human rights advocates and journalists are presently on hunger strike in the centre of Tunis. They are in a very bad physical state after 29 days of struggle. Their basic demands such as guarantees for freedom of expression, freedom of association and the release of all political prisoners have found no echo in the corridors of the Tunisian regime.
At the time of writing, around 200 vocal demonstrators are assembled outside number 23 on Mokhtar Attia Street, Tunis, chanting and singing solidarity songs and requesting the hunger strikers inside the crowded building consider ending their strike.
The group of demonstrators is made up of international delegates coming to take part in WSIS, most of them from NGOs such as the Association for Progressive Communications, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders.
Most are Tunisian sympathizers.
Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi arrived at 9:45 am to support this ad-hoc demonstration. The hunger strikers are expected to deliver a speech on Friday morning.
A group of protesters were also present at the Tunis-Carthage airport where Robert Ménard, president of Reporters Without Borders, arrived at 11 am on an Air France flight. He was not allowed to enter the country on the basis that he has no official accreditation. He is expected to be flown back during the day and is confined to the airplane.
Mokhtar announced the cancellation of the Citizens’ Summit on the Information Society.