29 August 2005. The following is a 27 August 2005 joint declaration by members of the Tunisia Monitoring Group of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX-TMG).
IFEX members call on the Tunisian government to allow the independent Tunisian Journalists' Syndicate to hold its first congress in Tunis on 7 September 2005. The IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) is deeply troubled by the Tunisian authorities' recent decision to prevent the independent Tunisian Journalists' Syndicate from holding its first congress on 7 September 2005.
Steve Buckley, Chair of the TMG, a 14-member international group of freedom of expression organizations including organizations representing journalists, writers, librarians, publishers and broadcasters, declared: "This new episode of intimidation and harassment reflects very badly on Tunisia at a time when the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), due to be held in Tunis on 14-17 November, is nearing. The Tunisian authorities keep telling us that human rights are respected in Tunisia, when evidence to the contrary is all around us. We call on the Tunisian government to ensure respect for the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association and not to interfere with the holding of the first Congress of the independent Tunisian Journalists' Syndicate (SJT) to take place on 7 September 2005 in Tunis."
The President of SJT, Lotfi Hajji, has been summoned once again to the Security District in Tunis on Wednesday 24 August 2005 where he was kept for four hours. He was informed of the Tunisian authorities' decision to prevent SJT from holding its first congress on 7 September 2005. The police also told Hajji that the seminar on journalists' syndicates in the Maghreb countries due to be held during the Congress on 7 September would also not be tolerated. He was told once again that SJT was illegal. The police officers would not give their names. Nor would they send the Syndicate's lawyer any written decision to prevent the Congress. Hajji was not told on what legal ground this decision was based. He also repeatedly refused to sign a statement that the police wanted him to sign.
In a statement released on 25 August 2005, SJT made it clear that it "has abided by all the legal procedures since its establishment" in May 2004. Hajji also informed the police about "the legal and legitimate basis of the activities of the Syndicate within the framework of the country's Constitution."
In the few days before and after this year's World Press Freedom Day (3 May 2005), Hajji had been summoned by police on several occasions, detained, had his books confiscated at Tunis airport, and was threatened with prosecution after the authorities learned that he had planned to publish the Syndicate's own report on Tunisian media repression. On 9 May, he was asked, during one of the many examinations he has had to face this year, to hand the police the list of its 160 members, but declined to satisfy this request.
The TMG urges the international community, particularly its representatives in Tunis, to do all it can to press for fair treatment of Hajji and SJT and to put an end to the harassment they face.
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), Holland
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 further details, contact Alexis Krikorian at IPA, tel: +41 22 346 30 18, e-mail: <krikorian (at) ipa-uie.org>
or Steve Buckley of AMARC, tel: +44 7801 945037