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Tunisia rejects criticism of human rights

Moritz Leuenberger will speak his mind at the WSIS

(Keystone Archive)

Tunisia has filed a complaint with the Swiss government over comments made by the communications minister criticising the country's human rights record.

The formal protest comes a week after Moritz Leuenberger called for human rights to be put on the agenda of next week's World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in the Tunisian capital, Tunis.

In an interview with the French-language newspaper, Le Matin Dimanche, Leuenberger said it was important that there could be debate about freedom of expression in nations where human rights are restricted.

He also expressed his support for a group of eight Tunisians who went on hunger strike in October to call attention to their government's efforts to suppress such freedoms.

The Tunisian embassy in Bern said that its ambassador, Afif Hendaoui, personally handed over the letter of protest to Leuenberger on Thursday.

Unfounded accusations

The embassy "regretted that the propagation of unfounded accusations and tendentious information had found an echo with a Swiss government minister".

It said the Tunisian government had deployed great "human and financial" resources in order to host the upcoming conference.

It therefore found Leuenberger's comments "at the very least surprising and improper", especially since relations between the two countries were, it added, "very good".

A spokesman for Leuenberger's office responded to the protest note, saying the minister "stood by his comments".

The communications minister will take part in the three-day summit, beginning on November 16, as part of the Swiss delegation to be headed by this year's president, Samuel Schmid.

The Tunis meeting is the second phase of the WSIS. The first was held in Geneva two years ago.

The aim of the summit is to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor nations, as well as tackle issues such as internet governance.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The WSIS is due to be held in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, from November 16-18.
Some 11,000 delegates from governments, UN agencies, private sector organisations, civil society and media and more than 50 heads of state are expected to attend.
Swiss President Samuel Schmid will represent Switzerland at the opening ceremony.
Communications Minister Moritz Leuenberger will take part in the debates.

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