The citizens summit is dead - long live the citizens summit!
  CSIS press conference becomes major human rights gathering
  16 November 2005. The Tunisian authorities have done all they can to prevent civil society events outside the Kram exhibition centre. But on Wednesday and Thursday, civil society activists finally succeeded in getting the upper hand against state repression. A press conference to announce the cancellation of the Citizens Summit transformed into a major human rights event and was followed on the next day by a rally by oppositional groups.

When civil society activists and journalists moved from the Kram center to the offices of the Tunisian Human Rights League on Wednesday afternoon - the day of the opening of the WSIS summit - they didn't know what to expect. All earlier meetings and press conferences outside the official summit area had been forcefully prevented by Tunisian police and secret service. What they found, however, was a room packed with international journalists, civil society and government delegates, and the who-is-who of international human rights advocacy.

Mokhtar Trifi, President of the LTDH, Shirin Ebadi, Winner of the Peace Nobel Price in 2003, Sidiki Kaba, president of the International League of Human Rights, Manuel Tornare, Mayor of Geneva, Ambeyi Ligabo, UN special raporteur on freedom of expression, Catherine Trautmann from the EU Parliament, and Steve Buckley, President of the World Association of Community Broadcasters were just some of the high-profile participants that took the word and addressed the more than 150 journalists and other participants.

They denounced the repression against civil society activities in Tunisia and showed strong support to the local human rights groups. "We are here to express our total solidarity with the LTDH and all strikers, all prisoners, because they have said no to censorship", Sidiki Kaba said. Mr Ligabo summarized the many statements by proclaiming: " Human rights are not a gift. They are the rights of each and every person." He demanded from Tunisia to release all prisoners of opinion.

As the press conference continued, it transformed into a major discussion with many participants joining in - a mini Citizens Summit, with a powerful, celebratory atmosphere. This was exactly what the Tunisian authorities had tried to prevent. Rikke Frank Jorgensen from the Danish Human Rights Institute said: "All the participants in this press conf have made the summit a reality". Steve Buckley added: "The Citizens Summit exists in all free media, all free associations, all free gatherings. We are all the Citizens Summit!" The Association of Progressive Communication APC summarized the event like this: "While heads of states' speeches present at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) were pouring in on all TV channels, revolution was just around the corner in another district of Tunis."

At the end of the meeting Shirin Ebadi called for a public rally to take place on Thursday as a strong sign of solidarity with the Tunisian human rights activists who have been on a hunger strike for one month.

So on Thursday morning, more than 200 demonstrators, including local civil society members and international delegates had a powerful demonstration at the compound of the lawyers association where the hunger strikers are based. This rally send a strong sign of support for all dissidents and civil society members in Tunisia and represented a defeat for the Tunisian authorities who had violently blocked similar meetings during the months running up the the WSIS summit.

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