Tunisian blogger and journalist Ziad El Heni has filed a legal action against the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), seeking damages sustained as a result of censorship. This is the first case of its kind against ATI since its creation in 1996 to manage the national internet backbone and provide internet services.
In a statement to Magharebia, El Heni, who writes for pro-government daily La Presse and is also a member of the executive board of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists, said: "Through this legal action, I wanted to make a symbolic move to express my rejection of any violation of my rights as a citizen to the freedom of expression and communication with other citizens of the world through the internet."
"To the government, the closing or blocking of a website may be a simple technical operation based on its legitimate authority... but in this case it is a crime," he continued. "More importantly, it is proof that the government doesn't respect me as a citizen. When the government doesn't respect its citizens, it raises doubts and questions over its legitimacy."
El Heni said he based his legal argument on articles 82 and 84 of the Tunisian Code of Obligations and Contracts.
The journalist was among Tunisia's many internet users surprised by the government's August 18th blocking of popular social networking website Facebook. The ban sparked criticism and protest across the country, and was ultimately lifted in early September at the request of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Reports vary on the cause of the ban, citing political or security reasons, but there has been no official comment to date.
El Heni understands the security concerns of the Tunisian government, but holds fast to his convictions.
"I understand there are security reasons related to the prevention of terrorism," he said. "I voluntarily agree to waive a part of my rights for the benefit of general security, which means safety for all of us. However, I strongly reject that the exception be turned into the rule."
El Heni's blog, "Journaliste Tunisien", received a series of support messages for his lawsuit against the ATI.
Blogger Achour Naji called the move "wonderful", especially if it motivates others to similar action.
Big Trap Boy, the Tunisian blogger made famous by his unflinching criticism of Tunisian society and politics, supported El Heni's case. The blogger revealed that he too was considering a legal action against the ATI and internet service providers, claiming they share joint responsibility.
El Heni is encouraging bloggers and internet users to join him in his legal confrontation with ATI. He said, "We have now started our preparations for a collective legal action in which scores of citizens demand that ATI be fined for its blocking of websites, and also demand it to open blocked websites like YouTube and DailyMotion."
The District Court of Tunis has scheduled a hearing for November 4th to examine the legal action against ATI. The agency could not be reached by Magharebia to comment on the case.