US embassy cable - 08TUNIS599

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS FUND: MAKING THE BEST USE OF AN IMPORTANT TOOL

Identifier: 08TUNIS599
Wikileaks: View 08TUNIS599 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Tunis
Created: 2008-06-05 08:24:00
Classification: SECRET
Tags: PREL PHUM TS
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTU #0599/01 1570824
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 050824Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5100
S E C R E T TUNIS 000599 
 
SIPDIS 
 
FOR NEA/FO (PATTON), DRL/FO (BARKS-RUGGLES), AND NEA/MAG 
(NARDI AND HARRIS) 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/02/2018 
TAGS: PREL, PHUM, TS 
SUBJECT: HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS FUND: MAKING THE BEST USE 
OF AN IMPORTANT TOOL 
 
REF: CHEN-TO-HARRIS AND SHEA EMAIL OF 05/22/2008 (AND 
     PREVIOUS) 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
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Summary 
------- 
 
1. (S) We understand that DRL made the decision to approve 
two Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF) cases involving 
activists in Tunisia.  Post previously expressed our concerns 
about these cases.  In this cable we set out formally our 
concerns about the merits of the two cases, lay out possible 
negative repercussions, and note some questions about the 
process by which such decisions are made.  In paragraph 5, we 
put forward some thoughts for improving the process with the 
goal of seeing the HRDF used to best effect.  End Summary. 
 
------------------------- 
Concerns about the Merits 
------------------------- 
 
2. (S) As conveyed in ref and in other communications, Post 
has raised concerns about the first two Tunisian recipients 
of the HRDF.  In short, neither recipient struck as a strong 
or clear candidate for this program. 
 
-- Ali Ben Salem has long been known as a human rights 
activist in Tunisia, is a founding member of two human rights 
organizations, and is respected in the activist community and 
considered something of an icon for standing up to the 
regime.  On paper, he looks like a good candidate.  In 
interactions with EmbOffs, however, we have observed him 
acting in ways that led us to believe that he may not be 
stable.  For example, when a meeting with EmbOffs was blocked 
by plain-clothes policemen, Ben Salem became quite emotional, 
flailing about and shouting anti-Ben Ali slogans to 
passers-by.  It was not certain where this outburst might 
lead, but it was not and could not be productive.  Moreover, 
it is not clear that his current difficulties stem from what 
some perceive as his role as a "defender of human rights." 
 
-- In the case of Slim Boukhdhir, we believe he probably 
committed the offense for which he is in prison.  Although 
his sentence (one year in prison) is harsh for the crime, it 
is in line with the penal code.  Other Tunisians, and some 
foreigners, are in prison for the same offense.  We would 
agree, however, that Boukhdhir has been subject to harassment 
on other occasions and has been a defender of freedom of 
expression.  We note, as well, that the Ambassador has raised 
his case with high-ranking GOT officials. 
 
Both of these cases raise, in our view, important questions 
about how we define "defender of human rights" and who 
qualifies for the designation.  They also raise questions 
about who should receive direct financial support from US 
taxpayers and whether we have properly connected US policy 
and resources. 
 
---------------------------- 
Concerns about Repercussions 
---------------------------- 
 
3. (S) In our communications with DRL, Post raised concerns 
about possible negative repercussions if the HRDF grants 
become public. 
 
-- In a non-permissive environment like Tunisia, anyone who 
receives a HRDF grant could be subject to harassment.  DRL 
satisfied our concern that the grants will be provided in 
local currency; this way, the grantees won't be in danger of 
circumventing Tunisia's strict controls on foreign currency. 
Even if a recipient is not breaking the law by accepting a 
grant in local currency, however, s/he could and probably 
would be subject to reprisals by the GOT.  We cannot predict 
the form that such reprisals might take, but we have seen 
unrelated cases in which we suspect the GOT has targeted or 
harassed family members of activists.  Given the role played 
by Freedom House (FH) in the HRDF process, it could be the FH 
local office of that is targeted.  For 

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