Tunisia: Freedom of expression threatened as authorities clamp down on 'insulting' blog posts
The issue of Tunisian bloggers facing prosecution for their blogposts is hitting headlines once again, causing fears that individual freedom is under grave threat in the country, especially freedom of expression. This, in a country that has been seen as a success story with regards to the hard-won rights gained through the revolution, in which bloggers played an integral role.
Curbing freedom of expression
On May 31, Tunisian blogger Salim al-Jabali, owner of the 'Minister of Hypertension and Diabetes' Facebook page was interrogated by the Military Public Prosecutor in Tunis for posts he made last February which was considered 'insulting to the Tunisian President Kais Saied'.
This has once again brought to the fore the issue of bloggers being persecuted in a country that prides itself on being one of the few Arab countries where people enjoy the freedom of opinion and expression. This is considered to be among the greatest achievements of the Tunisian revolution.
In response to the growing pressure on bloggers, Ennahda, Tunisia’s largest parliamentary party, published a statement emphasising their strong commitment to defending the freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Tunisia’s constitution.
They rejected all forms of harassment being directed at bloggers, journalists and those expressing their opinions, and condemned the prosecution of civilians in military courts. They also called on social media activists and influencers to express their ideas and opinions in a respectful and objective way that was not damaging to institutions and individuals.
Other Tunisian parties have expressed the same position, stating that freedom of expression and publishing are two red lines that must not be crossed by the government. They called on the military to stay out of the power struggle underway between the government and civilians, and unequivocally condemned the fact that civilians were being tried in military courts.
Systematic targeting of bloggers
Last April, Tunisian security forces interrogated blogger Slim Amamou (previously Secretary of State for Youth) for photos he had published on his social media page, before releasing him. In April 2020, bloggers Anis Mabrouki and Hajer Awadi were arrested after publishing posts criticising the way the Tunisian government had distributed food and cash assistance to poverty-struck families during the coronavirus pandemic.
This was deemed to be 'insulting the Tunisian government'. Hajer Awadi was charged by the public prosecution in El Kef governorate with 'insulting a civil servant' and received a suspended prison sentence of 75 days. Anis Mabrouki was banned from taking photographs or live broadcasting protests in addition to being detained for over 10 days.
Other prominent cases include that of the anti-impunity activist and blogger Myriam Bribri, who was summoned to the Tunisian courts in October 2020 after a complaint was filed against her by one of the Security Forces' unions in Sfax. They accused her of insulting security officers and causing damage to their reputations. A few months earlier, in July 2020, blogger Amna Al-Sharqi was sentenced to prison for six months for publishing posts considered insulting to Islam.
The rapidly growing number of bloggers facing criminal charges is making many Tunisians question the supposed freedom of expression in the country, and people are becoming increasingly vocal in their condemnation. Vice-President of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), Amira Mohamed, emphasised that the freedom of journalists and expression are under threat in Tunisia because of the increasing restrictions being imposed by the Tunisian government on those working in the media and online activists.
Bloggers played a major role during the Tunisian revolution in 2011, where they communicated what was happening inside the country to the world. This was after a media blackout was imposed on all local and international media outlets by the regime of the ousted late Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in response to the revolution.
Bloggers like the late Line Ben Mhenni, Sofiene Chourabi (currently missing in Libya), Slim Amamou, Wissem Tlili and others became prominent names as electronic activists who broke through this to provide coverage of Tunisia’s revolution which ended with the topping of the regime on 14 January 2011.
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original click here