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FREE EXPRESSION VIOLATIONS WORSE A YEAR ON, SAYS TMG

The Tunisian government has failed to make progress in improving free expression conditions over the past year, even further stifling dissidents, the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) has found in its fourth major report.

Since the TMG's last report in May 2006, the group has witnessed "serious deterioration in the conditions related to freedom of expression in Tunisia," particularly with respect to the harassment of journalists and dissidents, threats to the independence of the judiciary, blocking of books and websites, restrictions on independent organisations, and imprisonment of the human rights lawyer Mohamed Abbou for posting articles critical of the Tunisian authorities on the Internet.

These observations and others are detailed in "Freedom of Expression in Tunisia: The Siege Holds", a report on the group's fact-finding mission last month. Nearly a year since its last mission, the TMG noted that a series of new attacks on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and independent journalists has resulted in a near state of inactivity. Police brutality is becoming "an almost daily event." With a judiciary increasingly favouring the government, a climate of fear has been promoted.

The TMG concludes in its report that it is necessary "to maintain and strongly reiterate all past recommendations from the TMG to Tunisian authorities" to bring the country in line with international human rights standards. Recommendations include releasing Abbou and other "prisoners of opinion", ending harassment and intimidation of human rights activists, lifting controls on banned websites and books, and respecting individuals' rights to freedom of movement, assembly and association.

"The Siege Holds" is being launched worldwide in three languages on 11 April at a press conference organised by the Arabic Human Rights Information Network (HRinfo) and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) in Cairo, with a representative of IFEX's Tunisian member the Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation (OLPEC) in attendance. It is also being launched at an event hosted by the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) in Washington, as well as in Geneva by the International Publishers Association (IPA) and in Paris by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), including through its Arab Press Network.

The TMG is a group of 16 freedom of expression organisations in the IFEX network. Four members of the TMG - IPA, WAN, Norwegian PEN and Index on Censorship - visited Tunisia from 27 February to 4 March, where they met with government officials and civil society representatives, and monitored freedom of the press and related human rights issues. An EOHR representative was prevented from receiving a visa on time by the Tunisian Embassy in Cairo.

The report is available online on the TMG websites in three languages:
- English: http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg/IFEXTMGreport_April2007.doc
- French: http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg/rapportduIFEXTMG_avril2007.doc
- Arabic: http://www.hrinfo.net/ifex/wsis/
Visit the link:
- WAN APN: http://www.arabpressnetwork.org/home.php
(Image courtesy of www.worldcupblog.org)

(10 April 2007)

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