The Middle East Channel

The myth of a moderate Tunisia

When Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane arrives in Washington on April 26, he will most certainly present himself as the representative of a "moderate" Arab state that is friendly to the West. As a representative of Human Rights Watch, however, I recently witnessed another side of this supposedly "modern" regime.

My organization released a report last month detailing the Tunisian government's treatment of political prisoners, and a group of us planned to hold a press conference in Tunis to announce it, in the hopes of sparking a dialogue that would lead to change. This was an approach we had tried in 2004, when we released a report on the situation of political prisoners, and in 2005, when we published a study on Internet freedoms in the region. Both releases occurred without incident. This time, however, we found our path blocked at every turn: All of the hotels we contacted stated that they lacked the space to accommodate us, and the room we eventually rented was mysteriously flooded while we were at dinner. The government banned journalists from our news conference and physically barred those who tried to attend. State security agents followed us wherever we went.

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