Repression of cyberdissidents in Tunisia has been increasing at an alarming rate. “The battle will continue and we will win soon,” wrote famed Tunisian blogger Sofiene Chourabi after the government banned his blog for the seventh time to date. Chourabi’s blog is one of hundreds of banned websites, which includes blogs, Facebook pages, opposition websites, Wikipedia articles, YouTube, DailyMotion videos and even Skype calls to the West.
Tunisian bloggers are victim to a wide range of harassment and oppression – from travel restrictions to jail time. Chourabi told Cyberdissidents.org: “My page on Facebook and my blog are both blocked and each time I come to the country after a travel I am subjected to security searches of all of my belongings.” Chourabi is not only a blogger but also writes for multiple newspapers including Attariq Al-Jadid and the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar.
In response to this harassment, a group of Tunisian cyberdissidents have called for protests in front of the Ministry of Communication and Technology on May 22 at 3pm. Protests will also be held at Tunisian embassies worldwide.“The Tunisian government’s response [to online anti-censorship protests] has consistenly been negative and led to even greater censorship of the internet” Chourabi told Cyberdissidents.org. “This time, though, Tunisian bloggers Amamo, Yassin Ayari and Lina Ben Mehni have applied for a permit to demonstrate on Saturday, the 22nd. Tunisian citizens will wear white t-shirts displaying the phrase ‘Sib Saleh’, which is often used to express disagreement with certain actions or behavior.” This campaign seems to be a step forward from the virtual world to on the ground activities. Thus far, 1,687 people have confirmed their participation in the protest via Facebook.
Tunisian cyberdissidents have been extremely active and creative with their online efforts. A number of bloggers have published their pictures with the aforementioned “Sib Salah” and have gathered nearly 22,000 supporters to this campaign. Another campaign called “Yezzi Fok Ben Ali” or “Enough Ben Ali” collects pictures of Tunisian citizens calling for an end to authoritarianism in their country. This group’s website, however, was hacked by the Tunisian government in 2007 and has since moved to Facebook.
Many Tunisian cyberdissidents feel that the United States can do a lot more to help their plight. “Although Hillary Clinton’s last speech made it clear that Tunisia is among the most hostile countries to the internet, this speech remains useless without a direct demand that the Tunisian regime protect freedom of expression,” Chourabi said. “We need more support from American activists and civil society organizations. The [American] silence regarding these human rights abuses and violations of international law only serves to encourage the regime’s oppression of dissidents,” he added.
Several days ago, Chourabi published a letter on his blog addressed to Mohamad Al Ghoryani, General Secretary of the ruling party in Tunisia, after Al Ghoryani delivered a speech at a conference about the “role of communications technology to achieve better cities and a more developed life.” Chourabi pointed out that Al Ghoryani did not mention in his speech the real reason that communications development has been stifled in Tunisia: “The [government’s] iron fist against websites and blogs, both local and international.” Chorabi added “I don’t think that the General Secretary of the ruling party is unaware of the many blocked websites that could help our community. They are banned for Tunisians without any excuse except the government’s desire to treat its citizens like infants who are unable to choose for themselves between good and bad things.”
CyberDissidents.org calls on all champions of liberty stand up for brave cyberdissidents like Chourabi. Below is a list of Tunisian embassies and consulates at which protests are forming on May 22nd in solidarity with Tunisian bloggers. Let us never forget that freedom of expression is an unalienable right. And let us unconditionally condemn those regimes who deny this right from fear of open discourse and dissent.
To view a video posted by Courabi about banned websites, click here: