Over one year Tunisia has managed to develop an Internet penetration rate amounted to 28%, the highest in the Maghreb. Social networks registered a penetration rate to 77%. According to these statistics, the online freedom of expression should be guaranteed. Unfortunately it’s not the case.
Justice: Where Are We?
One year after the announcement of the death of Ammar404 (the nickname Tunisian internet surfers use for the authority responsible for Internet censorship), there is now a risk of his irreversible comeback. If in February, 2012, during the upcoming hearing opposing the Tunisian Internet Agency, and a group of citizens, the court of cassation will issue a verdict ordering the filtering of pornographic content online, censorship, stronger than before, will see the daylight again. Such decision will create a case law for other similar and potential lawsuits, targeting other content.
Meanwhile, lawsuits are filed against admins of Facebook pages, and bloggers for defamation and other charges.
Besides, the judiciary is operating without a legal framework for Internet in Tunisia.
Politics: Change of Discourse:
As for politicians who have for so long supported freedom of speech, a fundamental pillar of a true democracy, now as candidates they have changed their positions, from clear statements to conflicting points of view, once they “acquired” offices in the government.
This is the case of Mr the President of the Republic Moncef Marzouki, who as a candidate declared during the electoral campaign:
Internet should not be supervised neither by the government nor by enterprises…Internet freedom should be the rule and not the exception…I’m for freedom with its negative aspects, and against censorship even when it has a positive aspect…Netizens should be left free, and should be educated and informed…I refuse that the government allocates a budget for the purchase of censorship equipments…
But now, as a President he stated:
…I’m for freedom of speech, but there is no absolute freedom…There should be red lines limiting this freedom…these red lines should not be used as pretexts for censorship…the lines should be debated and accepted by all…it’s not my job to judge a judicial decision
Up from the 35th minute in an interview with Taieb Moalla on January, 9, 2012. [Fr]
I have always believed that a democracy cannot be established without a compromise, but in this specific case, there is no compromise since the Troika, representing the people, has the same opinion and is “flatly against any form of censorship” (see opinions of Ennahdha [Ar], and Takattol [Ar]).
Internet, a toy for kids?
This is what the majority of “non-internet users”, and some Facebookers believe. For non-internet users, this means of communication is no more than a toy that we offer to kids, and we took it back (censor) from them when we want to reprimand them. However, these parents did not bother themselves to read the user’s guide of this toy (ask for parental control when signing Internet subscription), or explain to their kids the dangers of using it (pornographic websites).
On the other hand, these kids need to behave as adults with a minimum level of maturity, so that Internet will not be considered as a toy in the eyes of their parents and others (government). This is not the case for a number of internet users whose online practices are deviating especially on social networks like Facebook. We have rights that we claim, but we also have duties vis-à-vis which we are responsible.
Netizens: Silence or disengagement?
I admit that I could not stop asking this question. Though I enjoyed reading few blog posts, and some tweets, but I always keep asking myself “What if we are only a minority worrying about the comeback of Ammar404?”, maybe Tunisians do not consider “Net Freedom” as a priority, but still we are 3 million of Internet users!
What are we waiting for? While, all over the world, freedom of speech advocates are campaigning against different censorship projects like Hadopi in France, and SOPA in the USA, we Tunisians “forgot” that we are still at risk. Remember what you have experienced during the rule of Ben Ali, the role that Internet played in toppling his regime, and the fabulous feeling of rediscovered freedom, which alas can disappear in February.
In brief, in Tunisia one year after #7ell (open) and #Sakker (close/ censorship), freedom of speech is swinging back and forth, and as it was predicted by the campaign of Reporters Without Borders: “Free until when?”[Fr].