IWTC Women's GlobalNet #287

Activities and Initiatives of Women Worldwide 

November 17, 2005


By Mavic Cabrera-Balleza

Tunis, November 16, 2005. Joining several civil society organizations that have denounced the Tunisian government for hampering freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, women's organizations attending the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society issued a protest statement today.

The women's groups that include World Association of Community Radio
Broadcasters- Women's International Network (AMARC-WIN), the Association for Progressive Communications - Women's Networking Support Programme (APC - WNSP) and the International Women's Tribune Centre, asserted that freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of assembly are integral to the principles of gender equality and women's human rights.
They also stressed that human rights and freedoms, of which women's human rights and freedoms are a central part, must be located at the core of the information society.

On November 15, AMARC-WIN and APC-WNSP cancelled their events which they had prepared long before the Tunis Summit, to make government, private sector and civil society delegates aware of the human rights violations that have been escalating in this country. It was also an expression of solidarity with all independent NGOs and journalists in Tunisia, and other individuals who are being subjected to repression for criticizing the government. AMARC-WIN was scheduled to co-organize the Community Media Forum and APC-WNSP was set to hold the awarding ceremony for the 2005 Gender and ICT awards. The panel on Human Rights in the Information Society and the launch of the book “Human Rights in the Global Information Society,” organized by the Danish Human Rights Institute was also cancelled. The organizing groups instead read statements articulating their grave concern and demands to stop the human rights violations.

The women's groups and other civil society organizations also urged the United Nations to name a Special Rapporteur to monitor freedom of expression and other human rights in Tunisia.


Women's Statement on the Tunisian Human Rights Situation

We, women's organisations, individuals and networks gathered in Tunis for Phase II of the World Summit on the Information Society, denounce blatant violations of human rights, freedom of expression, access to
information and freedom of assembly by the Tunisian government.

On November 12th 2005, correspondent Christophe Boltanski of the French daily Libération who previously reported the on-going hunger strike of Tunisian political prisoners, was beaten and stabbed by four unidentified assailants near his hotel in Tunis, in the presence of police officers who did not take any action to stop the attack.

Preparations for a Citizen's Summit on the Information Society have been continuously disrupted and prevented from happening. On November 14th 2005, Tunisian authorities blocked access to the preparatory meeting site, Goethe Institute, and physically forced people away from the building. During this process, several people were insulted and beaten.
On the same day, a journalist from Belgium who was covering the event had his camera confiscated. When the camera was returned later, the film was missing.

Websites, including the one of the Citizens Summit on the Information Society (CSIS), have been blocked in all areas in Tunisia except in the computers inside the official WSIS venue.

These incidents form part of the serious deterioration of freedom of expression and assembly in Tunisia.

The Tunisia Monitoring Group, a coalition of 14 organisations monitoring freedom of expression in Tunisia, reported that since January 2005, harassments of journalists and dissidents, imprisonment of those who articulate criticisms against the Tunisian government have persisted, and in some cases, escalated. The independence of judiciary has also been compromised. Essai Belhassen, Coordinator of the Association of Tunisian Democratic Women (Association Tunisienne des Femmes Democrates, ATFD), has been consistently obstructed from participating in WSIS-related meetings and events. Further, information sites covering WSIS from civil society perspectives, especially those maintained by Tunisians, have been censored and blocked.

Freedoms of expression, access to information and freedom of assembly are integral to the principles of gender equality and women's human rights. Human rights and freedoms, of which women's human rights and freedoms are a central part, must be located at the core of the information society.

As articulated in Paragraph 4 of the WSIS Declaration, to which the Tunisian government is a signatory, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference. We call on the Tunisian government and the international community to protect and uphold these rights.

We urge a real commitment to the Geneva Declaration of Principles in building an Information Society that is people-centred, inclusive, participatory, democratic and development-oriented.

We are outraged and gravely concerned by the impunity demonstrated by the Tunisian authorities in curtailing the freedoms of expression, access to information and freedom of assembly.

We demand the Tunisian government to put an end to the human rights violations. It is intolerable that we are experiencing serious violations of basic human rights even as we gather here to shape a just and equitable Information Society.

15 November 2005


AMARC (World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters) / Women's International Network Association of Progressive Communications, Women's Networking Support Programme (APC/WNSP) Comunicacion Comunitaria (Mexico) European Federation of Older Persons (EURAG) - Europe Feminist International Radio Endeavor (FIRE) International Women's Tribune Centre (IWTC) Knowledge & Rights with Young People through Safer Spaces (KRYSS) PULSAR (Agencia Informativa Pulsar) Women's International News Gathering Service (WINGS) Avri Doria (Working Group on Internet Governance, Member) Florence Etta (Gender Caucus Member) Deedee Haleck - Deep Dish TV Heike Jensen (Gender Caucus Member) Lisa McLaughlin, Union for Democratic Communications Marise J. R. A. Fonseca, Network of Feminists Women for Gender Equity in Development Esther Joly.

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