One of the reasons I’ve found it hard to take the World Summit on the Information Society too seriously is the fact that the second half of the meeting is being held in Tunisia, a country that limits freedom of expression, has a history of harassing human rights activists and blocks access to international news websites. My friend Julien Pain of Reporters Sans Frontiers calls the decision to hold the summmit in such a repressive nation “ridiculous”, and I agree with him.
A group called IFEX – the International Freedom of Expression Exchange – a coalition of press freedom and human rights organizations from around the world – has started a “Tunisia Monitoring Group”, tasked with investigating Tunisia’s record on freedom of expression before the WSIS summit. Their report (unfortunately in .doc format) can be downloaded here, and there’s a press release summarizing the report available online.
The release of the report was timed to coincide with the second planning conference for the Tunis phase of WSIS, currently being held in Geneva. Unfortunately, many of those attendees won’t get to read the report. The Highway Africa news agency reports that the WSIS secretariat has blocked IFEX from distributing their report at the planning meeting, except in the “civil society” room of the conference. The Tunisian government’s response to the report, on the other hand, is being distributed as an official conference document. The official reason for the delay – IFEX is not an official conference attendee, though it’s a coalition of groups registered to attend the conference.
Right. That’s obviously the reason the report isn’t being made available.
Meanwhile, the Tunisian government has responded by calling the report “seriously flawed” and asserting that there’s no press censorship in Tunisia. Reuters has that story, though I’ve not been able to find coverage of the IFEX report itself on any mainstream news source other AllAfrica. Thanks, AllAfrica.