Switzerland sends formal complaint to Tunisia

Ben Ali (left) and Schmid at the opening session of the WSIS Keystone Archive

The Swiss foreign ministry has summoned the Tunisian ambassador in Bern to complain about the treatment of the Swiss delegation in Tunis last week.

This content was published on November 23, 2005 - 21:59

Swiss President Samuel Schmid was censored by Tunisian television at the opening of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

The head of the Africa/Middle East division of the Swiss foreign ministry, Paul Fivat, communicated the Swiss protest orally, foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Philippe Jeannerat told swissinfo.

Jeannerat added that the government had asked Marc Furrer, head of the Swiss delegation to the WSIS in Tunis, to write to the International Telecommunication Union to protest against the various obstructions to the work of journalists at the summit.

In his speech, Schmid made some pointed remarks about human rights abuses and restrictions on civil liberties in Tunisia. His comments drew lengthy applause from delegates, who were his only audience after Tunisian television abruptly cut the live feed from the conference hall.

"It is, quite frankly, unacceptable for the United Nations to continue to include among its members states which imprison citizens for the sole reason that they have criticised their government on the internet or in the media," Schmid said in his opening speech.

"As far as I'm concerned, it goes without saying that here in Tunis – inside these walls as well as outside – everyone can express themselves freely. It is one of the conditions sine qua non for the success of this international conference."

He added that any knowledge society "respects the independence of its media as it respects human rights".


Schmid was referring to various incidents during the summit involving members of international civil society and the media.

One journalist was stabbed in Tunis, many others assaulted and WSIS-related websites, along with swissinfo, were inaccessible during the conference.

After his candid comments Schmid retook his seat next to Tunisian President Ben Ali, who appeared unruffled by such high-level censure.

Tunisia has long been accused of human rights abuses and restricting free speech while Tunisian President Ben Ali has repeatedly won landslide electoral victories tainted by charges of fraud.


In brief

Swiss Communications Minister Moritz Leuenberger emphasised the universal importance of freedom of expression and respect for human rights.

On Wednesday, November 16, Swiss President Samuel Schmid's opening speech - in which he said it was "frankly unacceptable" for UN states to restrict civil liberties - was censored.

The swissinfo website appeared to have been blocked in Tunisia after Schmid made his remarks.

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