Expression Under Repression at WSIS (the UN's World Summit on the Information Society)

November 17, 2005

Rebecca MacKinnon and Ethan Zuckerman hosted "Expression Under Repression," a workshop at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis (for more on that, please check out these blog posts).  Rebecca and Ethan are co-founders of Global Voices, a blog that features citizen journalists from around the world.  They also maintain a wiki-based index of bridge-bloggers, people who speak and write from one culture for another, and they develop tools, techniques, and teaching materials to help journalists and activists around the world to express themselves through the medium of blogs.  For Ethan's full account, please read this.

Recent reports by the Open Net Initiative, a research organization in which the Berkman Center participates, document government filtering of Internet content in countries like Tunisia (released yesterday), China, Singapore, Iran, Burma, and more.  Nart, an ONI member, blogged about the Tunisia report today.

A few hours before the workshop, 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."  Ethan Zuckerman wrote that "We also discovered that the session wasn’t listed in the official program guide. Today, we came to the room where the session was to be held and there was a sign on the door stating that the workshop was cancelled. Friends who passed by the UNDP booth on the WSIS floor earlier today heard gossip that the security forces would appear at our session and anyone who attended would be arrested...." (to keep reading, click here)

The event started on time and a crowd showed up.  Later we received the following messages from workshop attendees:

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.

And then:

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.

The Open Net Initiative's report on filtering in Tunisia is, for those of you who can't access it, also available here: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/oni-tunisia/  Ethan Zuckerman posted about attempts to self-organize around human rights at Tunisia - please read.

Last updated February 19, 2008

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