On 7 November, members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) will call on Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to intervene to end the persecution of journalists and Internet users in advance of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). In particular, the group is concerned over the official response to the continuing hunger strike by human rights defenders and journalists and says the date of 7 November, the anniversary of the day President Ben Ali took power, is traditionally marked with the release of prisoners. This is the moment, says the TMG, for an end to the hunger strike, for the release of the jailed journalist Hamadi Jabali and the human rights lawyer Mohammed Abbou, among other political prisoners, and for Tunisia to respond to international concerns over violations of basic freedoms in the country.
Eight opposition figures began a hunger strike on 18 October to demand respect for freedom of expression and association in Tunisia and the release of all prisoners of conscience in advance of the second phase of the WSIS on 16-18 November 2005. The IFEX TMG members are protesting that the Tunisian government has cut off the telephone lines of those on hunger strike as well as the telephone lines of prominent human rights defenders. As a result, their emails have also been blocked. This action is inhumane and a provocation says the TMG, coming as it does before the WSIS. It sends a message that the authorities are not ready to respect the fundamental aim of the Summit which is to build an inclusive, pluralist and free communications environment for the information age.
The TMG is also concerned for the well-being of Hamadi Jebali, editor of the weekly "Al Fajr", who has been jailed since 1991. Jebali agreed to end his own hunger strike on October 21, after five weeks, following a promise by the Tunisian authorities that they would review his case by 7 November. However, 31 other political prisoners are reported to have been released on 3 November to mark Eid Al-Fitr. Jebali was told by the director of the Mahdia Prison that he would be allowed to leave prison six months before the end of his 16-year prison sentence, which means that he will be released only at the end of 2006.
The TMG is calling on the Tunisian government to release him and all others held for "crimes" of free expression before the WSIS. The clear impression is that he is being victimised over his publicised hunger strikes and for the support he has received from international groups calling for his release.
The people who began the hunger strike on 18 October are: Ahmed Najib Chabbi, the secretary general of the Progressive Democratic Party; Hamma Hammami, the spokesperson of the Tunisian Communist Workers' Party; Abbdel Raouf Ayadi, the vice president of the Tunisian Congress for the Republic (Congrès pour la République, CPR); Ayachi Hammami, the president of the Mohammed Abbou defense committee and secretary general of the Tunis section of the Tunisian Human Rights League; Mohamed Nouri, the chairperson of the International Association for the Support of Political Prisoners; Mokhtar Yahyaoui, a judge and president of the Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and Bar; Samir Dilou, a lawyer and human rights activist; and Lotfi Hajji, the head of the Tunisian Journalists Union (SJT). According to reports, the hunger strikers are feeling weak, have low blood pressure and have trouble sleeping. Some of them are beginning to show symptoms of dehydration. Abbdel Raouf Ayadi this week decided to end his hunger strike on his doctor's advice.
The hungers strikers are calling on the Tunisian authorities to restore the fundamental rights of all Tunisian citizens and to release all prisoners of opinion, in particular Hamadi Jebali, Mohammed Abbou, the jailed websurfers of Zarzis and Ariana and the recently jailed Internet user Mohammed Amine Bettibi.
ARTICLE 19, UK
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Index on Censorship, UK
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Belgium
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), The Netherlands
International Publishers' Association (IPA), Switzerland
Journaliste en danger (JED), Democratic Republic of Congo
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Norwegian PEN, Norway
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), Canada
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), USA
Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC), UK
For more information please contact Executive Director, Rod Macdonell at (416) 515-9622 x.227