- International freedom of expression groups are alarmed by the state of censorship in Tunisia, as documented by a fact-finding mission. A large number of books are banned in the country, websites are blocked, state media are totally dominant, private media exercise strict self-censorship and dissident voices are thrown into prison. An "action plan" is now needed, the groups say.
On the eve of the EU-Tunisia Association Council Meeting, scheduled to take place in Brussels today, the International Publishers' Association (IPA) and PEN Norway (the Norwegian section of International PEN) urged the European authorities to adopt what they term "the EU-Tunisia Action Plan" as soon as possible. IPA also handed over a long list of Tunisian banned books to the EU.
The "alarming state of freedom of expression in Tunisia" had prompted IPA and PEN Norway to push for the adoption of a "National Tunisia Action Plan", calling for the respect for freedom of association and expression. Both rights groups were part of a recent international fact-finding mission to Tunisia, led in the framework of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX TMG).
The fact-finding mission found a disturbing picture of the rights situation in Tunisia. Among the conclusions of the IFEX delegation were that Tunisian authorities were blocking websites that included news and information and blocking the distribution of books and publications.
Further, there where restrictions on the freedom of association, including the right of organisations to be legally established and to hold meetings. And there were restrictions on movement of human rights activists together with police surveillance, intimidation and interception of communications.
The IFEX mission further deplored the "lack of pluralism in broadcast ownership" in Tunisia. The country only has one private broadcaster. There was also a press and book censorship and lack of diversity of content in newspapers, the mission found.
For groups and individuals trying to break this state monopoly of expression, severe punishment was the typical result. IFEX denounced the "imprisonment of individuals for their opinions and media activities" and the "use of torture by the security services with impunity."
Lars Grahn of IPA commented that the Tunisian legal deposit system "is used as a sly form of censorship. We just handed over a list of Tunisian banned books to the European Union. Tunisian authorities should therefore be encouraged to lift censorship on books and other media," he added.
Generally speaking, the authorities do not approve independent non-governmental organisations. This, according to IFEX, "is particularly worrying in the light of the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)," the second phase of which is scheduled to take place in Tunisia in November 2005.
Several human rights groups have already strongly protested the organisation of the WSIS on Tunisian soil. According to Kjell Olaf Jensen, President of PEN Norway: "If nothing is changed, the conditions will not be met for true Tunisian civil society representatives to take part in the World Summit."
afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.
afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.