US slams Tunisia on human rights

The US delegation to WSIS expressed disappointment with Tunisia’s failure to secure rights of expression and assembly

"We are obliged to express our disappointment that the government of Tunisia did not take advantage of this important opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of expression and assembly in Tunisia", said the US delegation in a special press statement earlier today.

The statement refers to the call issued at the summit’s first phase in 2003 by the West European and Others Group (WEOG). In Geneva WEOG had called upon Tunisia to demonstrate that it strongly upholds and promotes the right to freedom of opinion and expressin necessary to promote the building of the global information society. Achieving this was descibed as a condition for Tunisia to "ensure a successful second phase of the World Summit", the US statement reminded.

The US statement further voiced hope that that the sucess of the second phase of the WSIS will "provide additional incentive to the government of Tunisia to match its considerable economic and social accomplishments with comparable progress in political reform and respect for the human rights of its people".

Ensuring free flow of information that is critical to the success of Internet, along with bringing the benefits of IT to the developing world have been the two vitally important issues discussed by the summit, accoding to the US statement.

The statement joins a tide of civil society criticism on the host country’s government, trigerred by a series of human and communication right abuses by Tunisian authorities before and during WSIS. These included attacks on journalists and communication rights joirnalists, and earlier imprisonment of regime opponents who had criticised the regime in the Internet.

During the official opening ceremony of the summit Tunisian television censored the stament of Swiss President Schmid. Schmid stated that "it is, quite frankly, unacceptable for the United Nations to continue to include among its members states which imprison citizens for the sole reason that they have criticised their government on the internet or in the media".

In his opening speech Tunisian president Ben Ali spoke about the need to prevent citizens from what he called "negative influences" from the Internet.

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