Tunisia Tries to Silence Human Rights Watch

Tunisia Tries to Silence Human Rights Watch

The Tunisian authorities have told Human Rights Watch that they will not allow Human Rights Watch to hold a news conference on March 24, 2010, to release a report on Tunisia’s repression of former political prisoners. But officials did not present any legal basis for the decision.

Human Rights Watch plans to go ahead with a March 24 public release of “A Larger Prison: Repression of Former Political Prisoners in Tunisia.”

On March 22, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, was told by the Minister for Communications, Oussama Romdhani, that “it is not the wish of the sovereign” for the news conference to proceed. Officials from the ministries of Interior and Justice said that they would not allow it to proceed because it “tarnishes the image of Tunisia and is one-sided and biased.”

“The Tunisian government’s attempt to ban Human Rights Watch from holding a news conference shows a disturbing lack of respect for free speech,” Whitson said. “Who is free to speak in Tunisia when the government tries to silence an international human rights organization?”

Several hotels in Tunis that had previously offered Human Rights Watch rates for a room for the conference withdrew those offers.

The 42-page report documents the range of repressive measures, many of them arbitrary, that Tunisian authorities impose on former prisoners. These include close monitoring and surveillance, denial of passports, threats to re-arrest some who speak out on human rights or politics, and restrictions on movement. In July 2009, Human Rights Watch wrote to the ministers of Interior and Justice presenting a detailed summary of the findings and asked for comments or corrections, but received no response. The government now complains its views are not reflected in the report.

“Any attempt by the Tunisian authorities to disrupt our report release will focus attention on the government’s disrespect for freedom of speech,” Whitson said. “The treatment of Human Rights Watch by the Tunisian government is business as usual for Tunisian human rights defenders.”

Republished with Permission from Bikya Masr