The Tunisia Monitoring Group
(TMG) is a coalition of 16 free expression organisations that belong to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange
(IFEX), a global network of non-governmental organisations
that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression
and freedom of the press
The TMG monitors free expression violations in Tunisia and works to raise international awareness of censorship in the country. In the lead-up to, and during, the November 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the TMG called attention to Tunisia's failure to respect international human rights standards as the summit's host.
Fact-Finding Missions to Tunisia
From 14 to 19 January 2005, six members of the TMG conducted a fact-finding mission to Tunisia, where they met with writers, publishers, editors, journalists, human rights defenders and academics, as well as government officials and government-sponsored organisations.
The resulting report, Tunisia: Freedom of Expression Under Siege, documented extensive censorship in the country, including:
- Imprisonment of individuals related to expression of their opinions or media activities.
- Blocking of websites, including news and information websites, and police surveillance of e-mails and Internet cafés.
- Blocking of the distribution of books and publications.
- Restrictions on the freedom of association, including the right of organizations to be legally established and to hold meetings.
- Restrictions on the freedom of movement of human rights defenders and political dissidents, police surveillance, harassment, intimidation and interception of communications.
- Lack of pluralism in broadcast ownership, with only one private radio and one private TV broadcaster, both believed to be loyal supporters of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
- Press censorship and lack of diversity of content in newspapers.
- Use of torture by the security services with impunity.
In September 2005, members of the TMG returned to Tunisia to assess whether free expression conditions had improved since the first report. It found systematic censorship of newspapers and books; blocking of Internet sites; systematic surveillance of e-mails and telephones; denial of the right to legal accreditation of independent civil society associations; and threats against freedom of assembly.
Recommendations for the Tunisian Government
The IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group believes that Tunisia must abide by its international obligations as a signatory to UN human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as the host of the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in November 2005.
It is urging Tunisian authorities to:
- Release prisoners detained for their religious and political beliefs who have not advocated or used violence.
- End arbitrary administrative sanctions compelling journalist Abdellah Zouari to live nearly 500 km away from his wife and children and guarantee his basic right to freedom of movement and expression.
- End harassment and assaults on human rights and political activists and their relatives, including Sihem Bensedrine and bring to justice those responsible for ordering these attacks and perpetrating them.
- Stop blocking websites and putting Internet cafes and Internet users under police surveillance.
- Release banned books, end censorship, and conform to international standards for freedom of expression.
- Take action against interference by government employees in the privacy of human rights and political activists and end the withholding of their mail and e-mail.
- Lift the arbitrary travel ban on human rights defenders and political activists, including Mokhtar Yahyaoui and Mohammed Nouri.
- Take serious steps toward lifting all restrictions on independent journalism and encouraging diversity of content and ownership of the press.
- Promote genuine pluralism in broadcast content and ownership including fair and transparent procedures for the award of radio and TV broadcast licences.
- Allow independent investigation into cases of torture allegedly perpetrated by security forces.
- Conform to international standards on freedom of association and freedom of assembly and grant legal recognition to independent civil society groups such as the Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), the Tunis Center for the Independence of the Judiciary, the League of Free Writers, OLPEC, the International Association to Support Political Prisoners, the Association for the Struggle against Torture, and AID-ATTAC-Tunisia.