As conference delegates returned home, the Tunisian government thugs came out in force. My friend and colleague Ben Walker, who stayed in Tunis an extra day along with some other people from the conference, has this chilling account of some Tunisian friends getting hauled off by police after taking Ben and friends to a club [emphasis added]:
It all culminated last night when me Nart, DJ spooky (will explain the DJ spooky/Mulatu Astatke stuff later) , and my new favorite person in the world Saafir, got three locals to take us to somewhere "fun and happening." It was a discotheque (not that fun, certainly not happening). We stayed maybe an hour and a half. On the way back we took 2 cabs. Saafir rode with our three guides and Nart and I and DJ Spooky rode in the other cab. This is when the authorities pounced. I believe they hoped we had separated. They pulled my cab over, and took our drivers papers. We took a new cab back to the hotel, Nart had to collect his luggage from my room and head to the airport. When Saafir finally showed up he reported that his cab had taken him back to the bar where we started at. For some reason the bouncer would not let the three locals in, Saafir went in to use the bathroom (this is where the police finally had their chance). When he comes out, he sees our frens [sic] on the ground with their hands behind their backs. A police man comes up to him and asks him where he is staying. They ask him if he was with the three locals at the discotheque, Saafir says he does not know what the police man is talking about. The police man tells Saafir to go to his hotel and then they load the three locals in the car and take them away!
What happened to the three Tunisians is unclear. We can only hope they were released quickly. This account reinforces concerns voiced by Tunisian democracy activists like Neila Charchour Hachicha (standing there in the picture with me and Malaysian blogger Jeff Ooi), who are worried that the locals who interacted with summit participants will suffer consequences after the summit. Neila was not able to attend WSIS. Since she couldn’t get anywhere near the conference center, on Friday afternoon we met her for coffee in another part of town. Neila’s website and blog are blocked by Tunisian censors (see the ONI Tunisian filtering study for details on how Tunisia censors the internet).
For thorough reports on the Tunisian government’s thuggishness during the
summit, read this
BBC report, and this very
thorough summary of Tunisian authorities’ bad behavior by the Index for Free
Expression. See this statement by Amnesty International, calling the summit's legitimacy into question in light of the Tunisian government's harrassment of delegates and dissidents. Many international
participants felt that the Tunisian government made a mockery of the
summit with its thuggish behavior. Some human rights organizations are saying “never again Tunisia.”