Parliamentary question E-2554/03 by Marco Cappato (NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission
WRITTEN QUESTION E-2554/03
by Marco Cappato (NI) to the Commission
(24 July 2003)
Subject: The Tunisian journalist Abdallah Zouari
The court in the Tunisian town of Zarzis sentenced the journalist Abdallah Zouari to four months in prison on 18 July 2003. The court held that the journalist's complaint about being barred from using a cybercafe amounted to "defamation" against the manageress of the cafe. Abdallah Zouari has been constantly harassed and spied on for months. After being forbidden to go online at a cybercafe in Zarzis on 19 April, he said he would call his lawyer. The manageress then filed a complaint against him for defamation. Sentence was passed on 18 July 2003.
Zouari's conviction is only the latest example of the increasing lack of freedom of expression in Tunisia. Two cases may be considered as typical of the situation:
- the journalist Sihem Ben Sedrine, after setting up an online publication called "Kalima" because she had not obtained authorisation to publish a newspaper, was attacked by the police of President Zine el-Abidine ben Ali in an attempt to eliminate any form of dissidence on the Internet;
- Zouhair Yahyaoui, webmaster of the Tunisian site TuneZine, was arrested last year and sentenced to two years' imprisonment on 10 July 2002 for "spreading false information". Yahyaoui was the first person to publish online a letter to President Ben Ali from Judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui (Zouhair Yahyaoui's uncle) criticising the complete lack of judicial independence in Tunisia.
In view of the fact that Tunisia has been chosen to host the 2005 meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), what steps will the Commission take to induce the Tunisian government to give up its repressive attitude towards journalists and Internet users?
Does the Commission not consider that it should use every form of political, diplomatic and economic pressure to induce the Tunisian government to relax the laws on the press and ensure the right to freedom of speech in Tunisia?
Does the Commission consider it appropriate to try to ensure that the decision to hold the second meeting of the WSIS in Tunisia in 2005 is suspended until Tunisian legislation actually guarantees full enjoyment of freedom of expression?
Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(written question: E-2554/03)
(22 September 2003)
The Commission is aware of the three specific cases referred to by the Honourable Member concerning freedom of expression in Tunisia.
All three cases bear some link to the problems of access to the Internet. However, when establishing a link between these problems and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), one should bear in mind several elements.
First, holding the second session of the WSIS summit in Tunisia was a decision taken by the United Nations’ General Assembly and, therefore, has involved the Commission only indirectly.
Second, the fact that the summit will be held along the Johannesburg model implies a range of positive side effects likely to benefit Tunisian civil society: a whole range of different actors will be involved in the preparation phase as well as in the summit itself.
Third, the Commission, in its Communication(1) to the Council and the Parliament “Towards a Global Partnership in the Information society: EU perspective in the context of the UN World Summit on the Information Society” points out that the following principles need to be solemnly “upheld and extended within the Information Society: The right of freedom of opinion and expression in accordance with the provisions of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
The Commission will certainly use the opportunity of the WSIS to address problems related to human rights and democracy in Tunisia. First of all the upcoming Association Council on 30 September 2003 will pursue the continued dialogue held by the Union and Tunisia on this issue.
Moreover, to further the freedom of expression the Commission is currently setting up a support and training program for the Tunisian media (2.15€).
(1) COM (2003)271 final
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