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Program to protect journalists, human rights defenders launched in Tunisia

ARTICLE 19 is to launch a programme to protect journalists and human rights defenders in Tunisa, following a series of meetings with media workers and civil society groups in the country.

Three consultation events were held in Tunis between 15 and 17 May 2013 to discuss the training needs of those who speak publicly about matters of public importance, in order to ensure their safety.

The first session targeted journalists, media workers and organisations that represent media professionals. Among those who attended were a number of people who had been the victims of violence or received death threats as a direct result of their work. The second session focused on representatives of civil society organisations working in the field of freedom of expression, while the third session targeted lawyers and the judiciary.

Participants in all three meetings clearly stated their desire for training around issues of safety and protection. Each session also identified specific issues that such training would need to address for each of the different groups.

Media workers were particularly interested in receiving practical training in relation to personal physical security whilst working on the ground and also wanted to find out more about national and international laws and conventions that could help protect them. Media workers and representatives of those working in the industry said that that wanted to build and strengthen their legal capacity to be able to pursue complaints and use legal mechanisms to defend their rights.

Lawyers and judges discussed a need for training and for the raising of awareness of human rights issues, and particularly in relation to freedom of expression and freedom of information. This session also concluded that joint sessions bringing together legal practitioners and media workers to share knowledge and information will be of great benefit. They would allow for all to gain a greater mutual understanding of the specific nature and practices of the different professions.

Journalists and human rights defenders raised concern about the issue of impunity, in the aftermath of the revolution, with many participants worried that a failure to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice could fuel further attacks. Discussion concluded that in order to tackle the issue of impunity, a joint effort would be needed by the legal profession, media workers, human rights defenders and civil society at large.

The key proposals from the consultations include:

  • A national campaign against impunity and to raise the issue of the importance of protecting freedom of expression.
  • Creating a collaborative space between journalists, civil society, lawyers and the judiciary in order to combat impunity
  • An awareness raising campaign about the need to offer better legal protection to journalists and human rights defenders.

The consultations form part of a needs assessment by ARTICLE 19 Tunisia in developing a comprehensive programme for legal and physical protection of journalists and human rights defenders in North Africa, an in particular in the Tunisia context. This work has been carried out in in response to recommendations made by participants of the North-African conference in March 2013 on 'The protection of freedom of expression, association and demonstration in space civic post Arab Spring'.

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