TMG Protests Restrictions and Attacks Against Rights Defenders and Websites

Thursday, October 23, 2008
The members of the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 18 freedom of expression organisations who belong to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) network, are concerned about recent attacks against human rights defenders and representatives of independent media outlets in Tunisia. The TMG believes that these attacks are part of a broader pattern of intimidation against journalists and free media advocates perpetrated by the Tunisian authorities to curb freedom of expression in the country. The TMG has been informed that the website of "Kalima" (kalimatunisie.com), an independent online newspaper that has unsuccessfully attempted to register in the country since 2000, was recently attacked by hackers who completely destroyed its content. The damage was so severe that "Kalima"'s webmasters have been unable to access the site since 8 October, and it will now need to be completely rebuilt. We are pleased that "Kalima" will re-launch again and hope it will not be destroyed again. Disconcertingly, "Kalima"'s website, which was recently re-launched as a multimedia platform and archive and could be a very important source of information for Tunisian citizens, is one of several independent Tunisian and foreign websites with a political or human rights focus that have been intermittently inaccessible to Internet users in Tunisia during the past several years. Furthermore, members of the TMG strongly condemn the recent attacks by plainclothes political police officers against "Kalima"'s editor and founder Sihem Bensedrine, who is also head of the Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC), IFEX's member in Tunisia. Bensedrine was subjected to physical and verbal abuse in downtown Tunis on her way to a solidarity rally for writer and activist Zakia Dhifaoui, currently serving an eight-month prison sentence in connection with her human rights advocacy work. Commenting on the incident, TMG Chair and Index on Censorship Associate Editor Rohan Jayasekera said: "The Tunisian authorities' intolerance of peaceful, independent opinion is well known and well recorded and increasingly condemned by Tunisia's international partners. Yet this kind of thuggery continues to prevail." Naziha Rjiba, Deputy President of OLPEC and a well-known writer, is now also under intensifying pressure. The TMG is alarmed to hear that she has been summoned to appear before a public prosecutor on 27 October, after she wrote a critical opinion piece in the opposition weekly "Mouatinoun" about the destruction of "Kalima" in which she accused Tunisian authorities of being behind the attack. The 22 October issue of "Mouatinoun" has been banned. Rejiba's husband, Mokhtar Jallali, a member of the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT), is currently in jail after being involved in a fatal traffic accident for which he was not responsible. CNLT says that he is being detained in order to "settle scores with rights defenders, because Jallali is a member of CNLT and the husband of Rejiba, whose pen name is Om Zied. CNLT says "the family has already received indirect threats targeting their security and freedom." In a separate incident this week, Internet writer, lawyer, and human rights activist Mohammed Abbou was prevented by immigration authorities from leaving Tunisia. On 22 October, Abbou was about to board an airplane to Paris to participate in a live broadcast for the Qatar-based satellite TV station, Al-Jazeera, when immigration police prevented him from leaving the country on the grounds that he lacked documentary proof that his period of conditional release was over. Abbou was sentenced in 2005 to 18 months in prison for "having published information that would disturb public order" and for "insulting the judiciary" in an article posted on the Tunisnews website in August 2004, as well as to two years in prison for an alleged incident at a 2002 conference. He was released from prison in July 2007 and his period of conditional release ended in August 2008. Members of the TMG urge President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and government authorities to abide by Tunisia's international human rights obligations, as well as to commitment to freedom of expression and access to information, as reported in the final documents of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which took place in Tunis from 16-18 November 2005. The TMG has written to Frank La Rue, the new UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, requesting he monitor the situation and visit Tunisia. To read this letter click here Members of the IFEX-TMG: Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egypt ARTICLE 19, United Kingdom Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada Cartoonists Rights Network (CRN), United States Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt Index on Censorship, United Kingdom International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Belgium International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), Netherlands International Press Institute (IPI), Austria International Publishers' Association (IPA), Switzerland Journaliste en danger (JED), Democratic Republic of Congo Maharat Foundation, Lebanon 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), United States Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC), United Kingdom For further information, contact IFEX-TMG Chair Rohan Jayasekera, Index on Censorship, United Kingdom, tel: +44 20 7278 2313, e-mail: rj at indexoncensorship.org, Internet: http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg/

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