Tuesday, October 18, 2005

UN rights expert urges unconditional release of Tunisians imprisoned for exercising freedom of expression

Just a few weeks before the World Summit on the Information Society takes place in Tunis, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Ambeyi Ligabo, issued the following statement (14 October 2005):

"The final phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, to be held in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005, will be marked by a crucial effort to ensure a better future to less developed societies through the exploitation of Internet resources. Agreements on Internet governance and its financing will be at the core of decisive discussions and could open a new era for freedom of opinion and expression through enhanced dissemination and availability of information.

Throughout the implementation of my mandate, I have received reports of violations concerning freedom of opinion and expression in Tunisia. Recent cases would include the banning of a journalists' union congress, the conviction to prison-terms of a lawyer for publishing controversial articles and smear campaigns against human rights activists particularly in conjunction with their right to freedom of expression and of association. I have also been alarmed by the polarization of opinions and the lack of dialogue with the Press, two elements which could seriously jeopardize the progress of media freedom in the country.

In my capacity as Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the promotion and protection of the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and in conformity with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Tunisia in 1969, I hereby call upon its Government:

- to take effective measures for the promotion of a real pluralism, including action related to the increase of media freedom, in the country.
- to guarantee full access to information for media professionals as well as for the ordinary citizen, in order to expand transparency and public awareness.
- to ensure that all media workers can exercise their profession without any impediment and restriction.
- to adopt legislation for the decriminalization of defamation and related offences, including norms regarding fair criteria of proportionality in imposing pecuniary fines.

I urge media professionals, in particular journalists and reporters, to discuss and to adopt a code of ethics, which should eventually aim to encourage open dialogue and develop a spirit of mutual exchange, within the profession.

Finally, at the eve of the World Summit on the Information Society, I urge the Government of Tunisia, to release unconditionally all press and opinion-related prisoners and to allow the full exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the country."