Tunisian bloggers are rallying for a National Day for Freedom of Blogging on November 4. The day will coincide with a court hearing for a lawsuit filed by the journalist and blogger Zied El Heni against the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI).
It all started when Tunisian internet surfers welcomed with happiness the repeal of a ban placed on video sharing sites YouTube and Dailymotion. Many Tunisian bloggers celebrated this repeal of the ban by posting videos of songs downloaded from those two video websites on their blogs. But their happiness was cut short as the repeal did not last more than 24 hours. Very soon, the Tunisians discovered that there was in fact no repeal of the ban at all. Rather, a problem with the software and filters used by the ATI resulted in its failure to block these two video websites. The repeal of the ban, which had been welcomed with such enthusiasm, was actually just an accident and a mistake.
Meanwhile, journalist and blogger El Heni is suing the ATI for the censorship of Facebook, which had lasted for 16 days. The trial will take place on November 4 and as a sign of solidarity with his action, a group of bloggers decided that this date will henceforth be baptized as a national day for blogging freedom.
Blogger Abunadem, whose blog had been censored more than twice, spearheaded the campaign on Anticensuretounes, collective blog by Tunisian bloggers on anti-censorship. He explains:
والى الامام …لنتكاتف ضد عمار .
Writing on the same blog, Bachbouch further explains:
Tunisian blogs became the main supplier of unbiased news for Tunisians living inside and abroad. Blogging became a responsibility and bloggers are now citizens who can create jeopardy to any government agency trying to cover and shadow information that doesn't project a picture of a stable and democratic, government of a country experiencing a fast economic growth.
That in mind, we decided that, as we took this heavy responsibility on our shoulders, we are entitled to a law that protects us from any abuse and unlawful censorship. This law should also shield us from any unlawful investigation and arrest due to the content of our blogs as long as it doesn't break any law acknowledged by our constitution. This same law will punish any person or entity that shall intentionally break it.
Zied El Heni's symbolic law suite against "Tunisian Internet Agency" inspired us to launch our movement and decided to have November 4th, the date of the first hearing, as a National Day For Freedom of Blogging. This movement was immediately embraced by most if not all the Tunisian bloggers who will be the force that fuels and inspires this movement.
We will be reaching out parties of our government soon with all our demands hoping for a great cooperation.
The result is an overwhelming support from bloggers, such as Mayadine, who writes:
مع اقتراح ابو ناظم في مدونة : ضد الحجب
في ان يكون يوم 4 نوفمبر من كل عام ، هو
اليوم الوطني لحرية التدوين
مّاله انا بدوري
نتوجّه للجميع بدعوة للانضمام الى هالاقتراح
ليكن يوم 4 نوفمبر يومنا الوطني من اجل ان
نطلق اجنحة اقلامنا
To support the initiative, Facebook user Bassem Bouguerra created a Facebook group entitled: November 4th: A National Day for Blogging Freedom. Since its launch on October 1, more than 330 members have so far joined the call. This relatively great number can really be considered a great achievement, in a country where people have been raised in fear of speaking out freely. This show of support is also remarkable considering that many people avoid joining groups dealing with matters of freedom of expression and other controversial issues. They fear persecution and jail.
Members on the Facebook group are exchanging ideas about the best methods to overcome censorship and limits on freedom of expression.
Seifeddine Ben Fatthallah, for instance, writes:
"I hope that the trial against ATI will not be only Zied El Heni's trial against ATI but it will be rather the trial of all Tunisians against ATI. It will not be only for internet users. In fact, the problem is larger than it seems to be as it is going beyond all limits. I hope that the information about limits on freedom of expression will reach every Tunisian citizen."
Hayett Abed explains that Tunisian law guarantees freedom of expression. He notes:
Tunisian law guarantees freedom of expression and this freedom should be through all available means. Because Tunisian law lacks stipulations about blogging and because the Internet is part of new media and modern technologies, the government's approval to introduce such technologies to our countries is equivalent to its approval and acceptance to the use of the different services available on internet, including the different websites and blogs created by internet users.
And while it is really sad to see so many blogs and websites under the ATI's siege, and witness how Tunisia continues to violate freedom of expression while claiming at international gatherings that it is a leader of freedom and human rights, it is inspiring and encouraging to see so many Tunisians voices rising to say No to oppression and barriers on freedom of expression.
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