- A global coalition of free press organisations has called on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to move its 2005 meeting from Tunisia "because the country does not respect free speech and press freedom."
The Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organisations, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on the eve of the WSIS, said a second, follow-up meeting in 2005 in Tunis "should be transferred to a country known to respect press freedom, or cancelled altogether."
According to a resolution issued by the Committee: "The Tunisian press is censored, journalists are jailed along with hundreds of other political prisoners, and organisation of the Tunis summit has been assigned to a military general alleged to be responsible for the torture of political prisoners.
The members of the Coordinating Committee which signed the resolutions are the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Inter American Press Association, the International Association of Broadcasting, the International Federation of the Periodical Press, the International Press Institute, the North American Broadcasters Association, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and the World Press Freedom Committee.
The Coordinating Committee also applauded the inclusion of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the draft Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action prepared for the WSIS, which would reaffirm the right to freedom of expression on the Internet.
But the committee lamented that the text does not more strongly call for implementation of Article 19 "in a world where a large number of governments continue to repress the print, broadcast and Internet press."
The ongoing Geneva WSIS meeting has already met a variety of critiques from free press organisations. The Paris-based media watchdogs Reporters sans Frontièrs (RFS) had been banned from participating in the Summit, something that had caused widespread protest and seriously hurt the WSIS' credibility. RSF called the ban "grotesque and absurd" and has staged protests in Geneva.
Most controversy however stemmed from the decision to appoint the Tunisian Habib Ammar to head the preparatory committee for the summit's second stage. As a former National Guard commander and interior minister, Mr Ammar is said to have actively participated in repression of press freedom in Tunisia for many years.
The Tunisian is also accused of being responsible for torture. "During the period when he was Interior Minister, the Ministry's facilities were transformed into a detention and torture centre," according to TRIAL and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), two organisations that strongly protested Mr Ammar's appointment.
Meanwhile, many international Heads of State are reaching Geneva to participate in the controversial summit, which is hoped to contribute to a greater participation of African countries in the world's information network. While the Summit's cause is generally welcomed, many civil society leaders remain sceptical to the lack of sensitivity and respect of human rights expressed by the organisers.
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