Tunisian government blocks citizens counter summit

By EDRi · November 21, 2005

While the Tunisian authorities did all they could to prevent civil society
events outside the Kram exhibition centre, on Wednesday 16 November civil
society activists succeeded in getting the upper hand against state
repression. A press conference to announce the cancellation of the
Citizens Summit transformed into a major human rights event.

When civil society activists and journalists moved from the official WSIS
Kram centre to the offices of the Tunisian Human Rights League on
Wednesday afternoon – the day of the opening of the WSIS summit – they
didn’t know what to expect. All earlier meetings and press conferences
outside the official summit area had been forcefully prevented by Tunisian
police and secret service. What they found, however, was a room packed
with international journalists, civil society and government delegates,
and the who-is-who of international human rights advocacy.

On 14 November, some 30 law enforcement agents in plain clothes shouted,
pushed, and tried to physically intimidate the Tunisian representatives of
Tunisian independent NGOs present at a coordinating meeting for the Civil
Society Summit in front of the Goethe Institute, the German cultural
embassy. When members of international NGOs, such as the Association for
Progressive Communications (APC), Human Rights Watch, the Danish Human
Rights Institute and other civil society representatives tried to
intervene, the police officers moved away, and pushed the international
delegates away. In response a number of civil society organisations
cancelled their scheduled events on Wednesday 16 November and used the
space to issue a letter of protest in solidarity with their Tunisian

A lot of high-profile participants took the floor at the press conference
on 16 November and addressed the more than 150 journalists and other
participants. Amongst them Mokhtar Trifi, President of the LTDH, Shirin
Ebadi, Sidiki Kaba, president of the International League of Human Rights,
Manuel Tornare, Mayor of Geneva, Ambeyi Ligabo, UN special rapporteur on
freedom of expression, Catherine Trautmann from the EU Parliament and
Steve Buckley, President of the World Association of Community

They all denounced the repression against civil society activities in
Tunisia and showed strong support to the local human rights groups. “We
are here to express our total solidarity with the LTDH and all strikers,
all prisoners, because they have said no to censorship”, Sidiki Kaba said.
Mr Ligabo summarised the many statements by proclaiming: “Human rights are
not a gift. They are the rights of each and every person.” He demanded
Tunisia should release all prisoners of opinion.

As the press conference continued, it transformed into a major discussion
with many participants joining in – a mini Citizens Summit, with a
powerful, celebratory atmosphere. This was exactly what the Tunisian
authorities had tried to prevent. In the official press statement Rikke
Frank Jørgensen from the Danish Human Rights Institute said: “All the
participants in this press conference have made the summit a reality.”
Steve Buckley added: “The Citizens Summit exists in all free media, all
free associations, all free gatherings. We are all the Citizens Summit!”
The Association of Progressive Communication APC summarised the event like
this: “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.”

Flagrant violation of human rights this morning alongside UN summit

The citizens summit is dead – long live the citizens summit! )

Flagrant violation of human rights (14.11.2005) )

(Article copied from APC News and the Heinrich Böll Foundation WSIS
weblog, thanks to Rikke Frank Jørgensen)