Ben Ali's administration distributed brochures to all attendees of the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) here this week stressing that press freedom is respected. An official government history says "Ben Ali made Tunisia a pioneer country in the protection of human rights."
That hasn't exactly happened. French journalist Christophe Boltanski, who had arrived early to write about Ben Ali's civil-liberties record, was stabbed in an assault by four men and not aided by nearby police. On Thursday, Tunisian police barred the head of Reporters Without Borders from exiting the plane to attend WSIS.
Political and sex-themed Web sites continue to be blocked. Yezzi.org
Q: You've followed this situation closely. Would you call President Ben Ali a "predator
of press freedom?"
O'Siochru: I've worked in Turkmenistan. If you want to see the worst press predators, go there. Tunisia isn't even the worst Arab country. But there is no question that the human rights situation here is very bad. It became worse in the time leading up to the summit. We had hoped that the country would have made a serious effort in advance.
How has the WSIS summit addressed online civil liberties?
O'Siochru: We would have hoped that a world summit on the information society would underline and strengthen those human rights that specially relate to the dissemination of information. We have not found--in fact you will find no instance of where the existing human rights that relate to the Internet have been strengthened thanks to WSIS. At least they haven't been weakened.
One would have hoped that you could bring United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights into the Information Age. Freedom of information applies to the Internet. Access to information applies.
So you were trying to get the WSIS delegates to mention that the Declaration applies to the Internet, and you couldn't?
O'Siochru: There was opposition to reaffirming it. The human rights language that was included in the declaration has not been translated into the "action plan" that has been emerging. That would ensure that in cyberspace, human rights are (included in the declaration).
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe yesterday told delegates, to much applause, that there was too much free speech on the Internet. Is this symptomatic of the WSIS summit?
I don't think it translated on the practical level. This is only fluff. It's rhetoric. It's to be expected. That wasn't followed up with specific action.
What's the mood been like here for civil liberties groups?
O'Siochru: There have been incidents inside and outside (WSIS). Probably the most important thing