Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tunisia gives Human Rights Watch a taste of freedom

Tunisian human rights lawyer Muhammad Nouri and Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch at the press conference.

Plainclothes police officers had been following them for days. The hotel suddenly rescinded its offer to rent them a conference room, and then, when they returned to their suite after dinner, they were told it had been flooded.
"Coincidentally, there were no other rooms available in the whole hotel," Sarah Whitson said wryly.
As the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, the dark irony was not lost on Whitson. She was supposed to be holding a press conference in Tunis on the repression of political prisoners in Tunisia, but instead she found herself facing the same political tactics and harassment she and her team had so scrupulously documented.
The press conference Wednesday was to announce the release of a 42-page report titled "A Larger Prison: Repression of Former Political Prisoners in Tunisia." But several days ago the government informed Whitson that the conference would not take place, dismissing the report as "biased."
Authorities sent minders to follow the Human Rights Watch team and called Tunisian journalists to warn them against attending the press conference. When Whitson and her colleagues decided go forward with it from the offices of a prominent human rights lawyer, police physically blocked journalists and lawyers from entering and took down the license plate numbers of their cars. In the end, just one diplomat and three activists were able to attend.

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