Censorship in Tunisia

Censorship in Tunisia

Censorship in Tunisia has been an issue since the country gained independence in 1956. Though considered relatively mild under President Habib Bourguiba (1957-1987), censorship and other forms of repression have become common under his successor, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1987-). The latter has been listed since 1998 as one of the "10 Worst Enemies of the Press" by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Reporters Without Borders has also named Ben Ali as a leading "Predator of Press Freedom".


Bourguiba era

Ben Ali era: Legal provisions

Article 8 of the Tunisian [http://www.oefre.unibe.ch/law/icl/ts00000_.html#A008_ Constitution] states "the liberties of opinion, expression, the press, publication, assembly, and association are guaranteed and exercised within the conditions defined by the law." Article 1 of the Press Code provides for "freedom of the press, publishing, printing, distributing and sale of books and publications."

The main reference for the information in this section is the " [http://www.ifla.org/faife/faife/tunis-report2005.htm IFLA/FAIFE Report on IFEX-TMG Mission to Tunis] ".


The Press Code requires a receipt from the Ministry of the Interior before distributing books in the country. Islam and human rights are two frequent points of contention. Frequently banned authors include Mohamed Talbi, Hamma Hammami, Sihem Bensedrine, Moncef Marzouki, and Taoufik Ben Brik. The League of Free Writers believes that 40 books were censored in the decade 1995-2005.

Tunisia has 380 public libraries, which include a regional branch for each of the 23 regions and a National Library in Tunis. It is estimated that 200-300 new titles for adults are published each year. The National Library has depository rights to four copies of each work published in the country.


All major newspapers essentially follow the government line and tend to report uncritically on the activities of the President. Certain editions of foreign — principally French — newspapers that criticise the human rights situation or alleged electoral fraud, such as "Le Monde", "Libération", "La Croix", "Le Figaro" are often banned or censored, when they publish articles unfriendly to the Tunisian regime. "Charlie Hebdo" and "Le Canard enchaîné", both satirical newspapers, are banned on a permanent basis. In order to avoid accusations of censorship, Ben Ali's regime authorized only a very limited number of editions of foreign newspapers [http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=21114 Des médias français censurés pour avoir publié des tribunes du journaliste Taoufik Ben Brik] , RSF, 27 February 2007 fr icon ] .

Some banned editions are available "behind the counter" at libraries and must be requested. Twelve editions of "Le Monde" have been censored since 2006 according to RSF. "Libération" was censored in February 2007 following the publication of an article by Taoufik Ben Brik; it was the first time since 1992 that Tunis had censored it .


The state exercises a monopoly on domestic television transmissions, although satellite dishes are popular and offer access to foreign broadcasts.


There is a small number of private radio stations, but they do not independently report news. A permit is required to establish a radio station. Electoral endorsements of candidates are not permitted in the private media.


Tunisia is thought by many organizations to have one of the strictest Internet censoring procedures in the world. Technically, it is a transparent proxy that processes every HTTP request sent out and filters out sites based on hostnames. Empirical evidence shows that NetApp hardware was used to implement the controls (and NetCache). [cite web | url = http://anarcat.koumbit.org/node/52 | title = Comment la Tunisie censure l'internet| last = Beaupré | first = Antoine |date= 2005-11-23]

From the 23rd to the 27th of November , Wikipedia and all Wikimedia Foundation servers were not accessible from Tunisia. It is not known if this was censorship, a technical problem, or something else entirely.

pecific cases

Hamadi Jebali

Hamadi Jebali is a journalist and former editor of Al-Fajr, the publication of the banned Islamist party An-Nahda. He was sentenced to one year in prison in January 1991 after his newspaper called for reform of the military justice system. In August 1992 he was given a much harsher 16-year sentence by a military court for insurrection and membership in an illegal organisation. He was tried with 279 other suspected An-Nahda members or sympathisers. The trials were heavily criticised by foreign human rights monitoring groups. Hamadi Jebali remains in prison as of December 2005.1 Jebali is considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

Taoufik Ben Brik

Taoufik Ben Brik, who followed in 2000 a 42 days hunger strike in protest against Ben Ali's regime [ [http://www.rsf.org/rsf/html/mo/rapport/taoufik/taoufik.html L'Affaire Taoufik Ben Brik en 13 dates] , RSF, fr icon ] , published in February 2007 articles criticizing Ben Ali in the French press. Tunis responded by censoring the 23 February 2007 edition of "Le Monde", which published an article from Ben Brik titled "Qui écrit encore à Tunis?" (Who Still Writes in Tunis? [ Taoufik Ben Brik, "Le Monde des livres", 23 February 2007, [http://www.lemonde.fr/cgi-bin/ACHATS/acheter.cgi?offre=ARCHIVES&type_item=ART_ARCH_30J&objet_id=978077 Qui écrit encore à Tunis ?] fr icon ] ) and two editions of "Le Nouvel Observateur" (8 and 21 February 2007). The 8 February 2007 article criticized the display of wealth in Tunisia, which contrasted with the real misery of its inhabitants [ Taoufik Ben Brik, "Le Nouvel Observateur", 8 February 2007, [http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/actualites/opinions/tribunes/20070208.OBS1444/tunis_carbure_a_loptipessimisme.html Tunis carbure à l'optipessimisme] fr icon Conclusion: "Si à Tunis les gens ont le ventre plein, ils crèvent de faim." (If in Tunis people have a full stomach, they are dying of hunger.) ] The 20 February 2007 article used boxing metaphors to talk about his life during the past three years [ Taoufik Ben Brik, "Le Nouvel Observateur", 20 February 2007, " [http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/actualites/opinions/tribunes/20070220.OBS3357/rendezvous_a_kinshassa_a_4h00le_matin_au_huitieme_round.html Rendez-vous à Kinshassa, à 4h00, le matin, au huitième round] fr icon ]

"Libération" 's website was blocked starting on 21 February 2007, following the publication by Taoufik Ben Brik of an article titled "En 2009 je « vote » pour Ben Ali" (In 2009, I "vote" for Ben Ali [ Taoufik Ben Brik, "Libération", 21 February 2007, [http://www.liberation.fr/rebonds/236349.FR.php En 2009, je «vote» pour Ben Ali] fr icon ] ). [http://www.leblogmedias.com www.leblogmedias.com] is also censored since Ben Brik wrote for it, as well as the review "Médias" [http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=21114 Des médias français censurés pour avoir publié des tribunes du journaliste Taoufik Ben Brik] , RSF, 27 February 2007 fr icon ] .

ihem Bensedrine

Sihem Bensedrine is a journalist active in the political opposition. For her work in advancing human rights and press freedom, she was shortlisted for the Sakharov Prize in 2002 and was awarded an International Press Freedom Award from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression in 2004. She filed a request with the government to publish the magazine "Kalima" in 1999 and did not receive a response.2 In June 2001 Bensedrine was arrested and imprisoned for six weeks for making comments critical of the judiciary on a private London television station; she was released in August.3 In January 2004 she was assaulted by alleged plainclothes police and had her third attempt to register "Kalima" rejected.4

The "Index on Censorship" reported in mid-2005 that Bensedrine had become "the target of a viciously obscene campaign of hate" in the pro-government media, which it attributes to pressure from the government. An editorial in the newspaper "As-Shouruq" charged her with "selling her conscience … to foreigners … and to Zionists in particular." She was described in other publications as "hysterical," "delirious," and a "political prostitute." In the past, a photograph of Bensedrine's face had been superimposed onto pornographic images. These and similar notions, widely regarded abroad as spurious and insulting, have led censorship experts such as Rohan Jayasekera to hail Bensedrine as "a friend to media freedom."5

Sihem Bensedrine currently publishes "Kalima" on the Internet, as it remains banned in print after four attempts to register. The government has had mixed success in blocking the electronic version. Bensedrine collaborates with Néziha Rejiba, alias Om Zeid, who was harassed by customs police in September 2003 for bringing a small amount of foreign currency from abroad.6

Tunisian Workers' Communist Party

The Tunisian Workers' Communist Party ("Parti communiste des ouvriers tunisiens", PCOT) is a proscribed communist political party led by Hamma Hammami. PCOT is described by its co-thinkers in France as "constituting the most important opposition force" in Tunisia. Hammami was arrested and sentenced to over four years in prison for contempt of court, and reports that he was "savagely tortured." He was given additional sentences of eleven years and five years for, among other things, membership in an illegal organisation and distribution of propaganda.7 At least ten of his books are banned. Hammami's wife, Radhia Nasraoui, a human rights lawyer and also an outspoken opponent of President Ben Ali, went on a 57-day hunger strike in late 2003 to protest official surveillance of her home and communications.8

Abdallah Zouari

Abdallah Zouari is a journalist (formerly of "Al-Fajr") who was sentenced to eleven years in prison in 1991 for membership in an illegal organisation. He was released in June 2002 but continued to serve five years of "administrative control" in a remote desert town in southern Tunisia.9 He was re-arrested in August the same year and charged with possession of illegal weapons. He was again released in September 2004.

Zouhair Yahyaoui

Zouhair Yahyaoui, alias Ettounsi, founder and editor of the satirical website "TUNeZINE" (http://www.tunezine.com), died of a heart attack on March 13 2005. He was severely tortured and developed several health problems in prison.10


Mohamed Moaada

WAN controversy

In July 1996 the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) suspended the Tunisian Newspaper Association for not speaking out about attacks on the press. The TNA was expelled in June 1997 following an investigation into press freedom.11

WSIS controversy

Tunis hosted the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society, a global conference on the development of information technology. Many observers felt that the choice of country was inappropriate given the Ben Ali government's repression of independent voices.

See also

*Tunisia Monitoring Group
*Human rights in Tunisia


External links

# Documenting Internet censorship in Tunisia. [http://censorship.cybversion.org/ censorship.cybversion.org/]
# Committee to Protect Journalists. " [http://www.cpj.org/attacks05/pages05/imprison_05.html#tunisia Journalists in Jail on December 1 2005: A Global Tally] ." Page retrieved 17 December 2005.
# United States Department of State. "Tunisia." "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices", 2000. Published 23 February 2001; retrieved 17 December 2005.
# Amnesty International. [http://web.amnesty.org/report2002/mde?OpenView 2002 Tunisia country report] (covering events in 2001). Page retrieved 17 December 2005.
# United States Department of State. "Tunisia." "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices", 2004. Published 28 February 2005; retrieved 17 December 2005.
# "Index on Censorship". "Sticks and stones and hate speech: the unacceptable vilification of Sihem Bensedrine." Published 30 May 2005; retrieved 17 December 2005.
# Committee to Protect Journalists. " [http://www.cpj.org/cases03/mideast_cases03/tunisia.html Attacks on the press in 2003] ." Published 3 October 2003; retrieved 17 December 2005.
# " [http://www.mltranslations.org/Tunisia/hammani.htm Interview with Hamma Hammani on the situation in Tunisia] " in "La Forge". Published September 1997; retrieved 17 December 2005.
# " [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/D1836D5E-9447-472D-B578-4249AD7749A4.htm Tunisian hunger striker's health fades] ." "Aljazeera.net". Published 1 November 2003; retrieved 17 December 2005.
# United States Department of State. "Tunisia." "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices", 2002. Page retrieved 17 December 2005.
# PEN American Center. [http://www.pen.org/page.php/prmID/429 Profile of Zouhair Yahyaoui] . Retrieved 17 December 2005.
# United States Department of State. "Tunisia." "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices", 1996 and 1997. Page retrieved 17 December 2005.

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