Expression Under Repression and Tunisia's Secret Police

By: derek on 17 November 2005

The Berkman Center blogs about "Expression Under Repression," which is of interest not only to civil society groups, but to Tunisia's secret police:

Right now Rebecca MacKinnon and Ethan Zuckerman are hosting "Expression Under Repression," a workshop at WSIS. Just a few hours ago Rebecca posted that "our sponsors were told that the Tunisian authorities deemed our seminar's title to be incompatible with the conference's theme of ICT for Development, and that it might be cancelled....Then this morning there was a sign outside our seminar room saying the event was cancelled. After more protests by our sponsors, the sign was removed." Well, the event started on time and we've read that quite a crowd showed up.

Just now we just received word from someone on the ground at the event of the appearance of "a phalanx of secret police":

before the break, a phalanx of secret police (ie scary guys in dark suits) showed up. they filled the hall outside the room, forcing cancellation of the break for fear that we'd not be allowed to re-start. as rsf started to hand out books at the non-break, the authorities stated that documents could only be distributed outside the event, not in the room. this is in direct contrast to the WSIS rules, which state that materials can be passed out inside an approved event (unless they receive special approval for wider distribution). the hivos folks are quite frustrated, but nart is presenting now and the room is still full.

some of these details may be wrong, but since we're all still in here it's hard to talk much, and there's no net access...but they ought give you the idea.

And just a few minutes before that message, we received this one:

just to give an update, the event is going swimmingly. the room is small, and unlike most rooms which are packed with chairs - it curiously has lots of open space. that turns out to both unfortunate and convenient in that it is absolutely packed (there are probably along the lines of 100+ in a room advertised for half that), even though there's no internet access (another reason to leave).

the somewhat disturbing/strange part, however, is that about a forty-five minutes into the first panel a tunisian television crew showed up and (seemingly) against the wishes of the organizers started to film and photograph the panel.

the first question was asked by a local tv reporter/cnn stringer, who made some strange remarks about respecting laws, conventions and customs - which seemed like either a recognition or warning regarding tunisia.

We'll post more later. In the meantime, for a list of all blocked sites in Tunisia go here. The Open Net Initiative's report on filtering in Tunisia is, for those of you who can't access it, also available here: Ethan Zuckerman posted about attempts to self-organize around human rights at Tunisia - please read.

(cross-posted, with props to Amanda)