Tunisian rights leader, new report to address free speech in Tunisia

MONTREAL – May 9, 2005 – Mokhtar Trifi, President of the Tunisian Human Rights League, will join Rights & Democracy in Montreal tomorrow, May 10, to launch the campaign “World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the Right to Freedom of Expression in Tunisia.”

This November, Tunisia will host the second phase of the WSIS, an international event organized under the auspices of the United Nations by the International Telecommunication Union. Tomorrow’s press conference will hear from Mr. Trifi and present a new report on the status of freedom of information in Tunisia compiled by Rights & Democracy, the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) with support from the WSIS Human Rights Caucus.

The Tunisian Human Rights League is one of Tunisia’s only independent human rights organizations. As its president, Mr. Trifi is intimately familiar with his government’s deplorable track record on human rights, not least of all the issue of freedom of information discussed in the report.

The report details the findings of an international mission to Tunisia earlier this year that was mandated to examine Tunisia’s suitability for hosting the WSIS. According to the report, Tunisia’s record on Freedom of Expression is characterized by arbitrary arrests and detentions, intimidation, prosecution and torture of human rights advocates. Systemic repression of the Freedoms of Expression and Association as well as censorship of the Internet are but a few of the obstacles that prevent the development of a free and accessible information society in Tunisia.

Rights & Democracy’s President, Jean-Louis Roy, participated in the mission and returned with serious concerns about Tunisia’s respect for human rights and its record on access to information.

“President Zine Al Abadine Ben Ali campaigned on a promise to improve communications technology in Tunisia and yet his government continues to impose strict controls on access and use of such technology,” Mr Roy said. “Rights & Democracy expects the Government of Canada to follow-up on the key role it played in ensuring that human rights principles figured prominently in phase one of the WSIS Declaration, by exercising its full diplomatic weight to ensure that Tunisian civil society can participate freely and fairly throughout the Summit and that there are no negative consequences for human rights defenders who are critical of Tunisia’s government.”

The World Summit of the Information Society and the Rights to Freedom of Expression in Tunisia campaign is a joint effort by a coalition of Quebec and Canadian organizations, including Rights & Democracy, Amnesty International – Canadian Section (Francophone), the Association des Droits de la personne au Maghreb (ADPM), PEN International’s Centre Québecois, PEN Canada, Reporters Withour Borders, Canadian Journalists For Free Expression, the Civil Liberties Union, Alternatives, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) and the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ).

The press conference takes place on Tuesday, May 10, at 10 AM at Rights & Democracy, 1001 de Maisonneuve Blvd East, Suite 1100 (corner of Amherst) in Montreal, Quebec. For a copy of the new report, please click here.