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Tunisia: Internet Censorship Makes a Comeback

This post is part of our special coverage Tunisia Revolution 2011.

Internet censorship is making a comeback in Tunisia, much to the annoyance of many cyber activists across the country.

During the rule of ousted Tunisian president Zein El Abideen Ben Ali, the government exercised a harsh censorship policy by blocking all web pages and websites that criticized the regime, including websites such as those of Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, WikiLeaks, YouTube, Nawaat and DailyMotion, as well as dozens of Facebook pages.

On January 13, 2011, Ben Ali addressed the Tunisian people and promised to put an end to Internet censorship, in an attempt to absorb the rage of the masses, especially the youth. Ben Ali kept his promise but it was too late for him to remain in power and, ever since mid-January, Internet users in Tunisia have started to enjoy an unprecedented uncensored web access.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CEAQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Ftakrizo&rct=j&q=Takriz&ei=bwnMTZjSBMOx8QO7_6mhBA&usg=AFQjCNH87HoM3w_OWFhm7KTA_bMY2jf_FA

This page was filtered to put into practice a requisition made by a magistrate in the Permanent Military Tribunal of Tunis.

Recently, however, the Tunisian Agency of Internet censored four Facebook pages [fr], following a military order. On its official website, the Ministry of National Defense explained why such a decision was taken:

لوحظ في الآونة الأخيرة تعمد بعض المواطنين إحداث صفحات خاصة بهم على شبكة الأنترنات قصد الإساءة إلى المؤسسة العسكرية وقياداتها من خلال نشر مشاهد فيديو وتداول تعاليق ومقالات مغرضة ترمي إلى زعزعة ثقة المواطن في الجيش الوطني وبث البلبلة والفوضى بالبلاد.

وأمام هذه السلوكيات المنحرفة والمخلة بآداب التعامل مع شبكة الأنترنات، بادرت وزارة الدفاع الوطني بعد أن تحصلت على تسخير صادر عن حاكم التحقيق بالمحكمة العسكرية الدائمة بتونس بإخطار الوكالة التونسية للأنترنات لحجب الصفحات التالية:

- “Jalel Brick”
- “Youssef patriote”
- “Takriz

It has been recently noticed that some citizens have deliberately created personal pages on the World Wide Web in an attempt to damage the reputation of the military institution and, its leaders, by the publishing of video clips and, the circulation of comments and, articles that aim to destabilize the trust of citizens in the national army, and spread disorder and chaos in the country.

In response to this deviant behavior that goes against the ethics of using the Internet, the Ministry of Defense and, after obtaining a request from the Magistrate of the Permanent Military Tribunal, took the initiative to ask the Tunisian Internet Agency to filter the following pages:

- “Jalel Brick”
- “Youssef patriote”
- “Takriz

The move has outraged Tunisian bloggers, who consider the military decision as a step backward. Tounsi7orr (@tounsi7orr) tweets [fr]:

priver un peuple déjà censuré non pas 23 ans seulement mais tout un demi siècle de parler et de critiquer est de la pure anarchie #tunisie

to deprive a people, that was censored not for 23 years but for a half century, from talking and criticizing is pure anarchy

He adds [fr]:

quelle démocratie veut on la construire si on ne respecte pas l'autre…et on censure ceux qui brise le mur de silence #tunisie

What kind of democracy do we want to build if we do not respect the other… and censor those who break the wall of silence
Ammar 404 caricature on seifnechi.blogspot.com

Ammar 404 caricature on seifnechi.blogspot.com

“Ammar 404″ is the nickname that Tunisian bloggers gave to censorship. “404″ is derived from “404 Page not Found” while “Ammar” is a male Tunisian name.

The adjacent caricature represents Ammar 404 dressed in military clothes, holding scissors to cut Internet access from a number of pages on the web. The caricature is entitled “Ammar has been recruited by the military.”

Zied Mhirsi writes [fr]:

Avec la révolution du 14 Janvier et la presence de Slim Amamou au sein du gouvernement, on aurait pu penser que la page de la censure a été définitivement tournée[...] Deux semaine avant la celebration de la 1ere année de la journée “Nhar ala Ammar” (contre la censure qd Slim 404 a été arrêté), voila que Ammar refait surface et cette fois ci habillé en militaire et ce placant derriere une décision de la court militaire.[...]

Les blogueurs ne peuvent rester silencieux devant cette “CENSURE” (et pas filtrage). Affaire à suivre…

After the revolution of January 14, and the presence of Slim Amamou within the government, we would have thought that the page of censorship has been finally turned over. Two weeks before celebrating the first year of “Nhar ala Ammar” Day (against censorship when Amamou was arrested), here is Ammar floating on the surface again, but this time with a military look and following a decision by the military court. [...]

Bloggers cannot remain silent against this “Censorship” (and not filtering). Story to be followed

Among the pages censored are “Takriz” and “Jalel Brik”. The two pages have on several occasions promoted violence against the security forces.

The Facebook page “Tunisie: Contre les rumeurs post-révolution” [fr] published an article endorsing the decision taken by the military court [fr]:

Questionné sur la cause de cette agitation, l'on m'a expliqué que le tribunal militaire n'a pas le droit de s'immiscer dans telles affaires. J'ai répondu que ces deux pages ont appelé ouvertement, de manière flagrante, explicite et très claire à la violence. Pire encore, le dénommé Jalel Brik a incité carrément à brûler les postes de police, y compris les policiers

When I asked Tunisian cyber-activists why they were disturbed by such decision, they answered that the military tribunal does not have the right to interfere in such things. I responded that these two pages (Takriz and Jalel Brik) openly, in a flagrant way, explicitly and obviously called for violence. Even worse is that the called Jalel Brik called for the burning of police stations, with the police officers.

Aymen Ouerghi tweets [fr]:

Non à la censure, mais condamner diffamations, haine et violence n'est pas censure, ni atteinte à la liberté d'expression non plus #tunisie

No to censorship. However, condemning slander, hatred, and violence is neither censorship nor an attack on freedom of expression

This post is part of our special coverage Tunisia Revolution 2011.

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