Friday, November 18, 2005

World Summit on the Information Society

Watching policeman rough up a taxi driver.

Second and final delayed blog posting from Tunis. Original post from Nov 18, 2005:

The WSIS Summit continues to be fascinating. In a recent post, I alluded to human rights activists getting beat up. Yesterday I had a personal experience with the police presence.

I took a taxi back to the conference after a brief visit to Carthage for lunch. The taxi had to stop a few hundred meters short of the center at a police roadblock. I leaned out to ask the policemen if we could go through, but they told me I had to walk. As I was having this brief exchange, a taxi right behind us honked his horn at my taxi.

Bad idea.

The policeman ordered the second taxi driver (not my taxi driver, the honking one) out of his taxi and pushed him roughly to the back of his taxi, yelling at him. He yelled back. One policeman started slapping him in the face and hit him four or five times. By this time, the neighbors are all out in the street watching this. Another policeman guides me by the elbow towards the conference center. I move fifty yards off and keep watching. Another policeman steps in and takes over the yelling, but stops hitting the guy. This goes on for at least ten minutes, until I finally move on.

It gives me some idea of what it must be like in a place with heavy police presence. You get smacked around for embarrassing the police in front of a foreign guest (I guess the idea it might be more embarrassing to be hitting someone in front of a foreign guest never occurred to the policeman). The guy can't do anything but take it, because the options to do anything else are probably not there.

And, while this was happening, a session on repression of human rights was going on inside the conference hall and the police were trying to disrupt that. It apparently took some delicate negotiating by the Dutch ambassador to keep things from getting completely out of hand, according to my friend who was part of the event, Ethan Zuckerman.

Very interesting place to be at the moment!

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