Tunisia celebrates internet freedom
By Mona Yahia for Magharebia in Tunis – 21/03/12
Tunisians marked a National Day for Internet Freedom, to honour a blogger who died after incarceration and torture under the old regime. The day, observed March 13th, remains controversial among some bloggers who say more still needs to be done to protect civil liberties.
The holiday honoured the spirit of Zouheir Yahyaoui, a cyber-activist and owner of the "TUNeZINE" blog. Yahyaoui was jailed for posting a message in which his uncle, judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui, urged then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to ensure the independence of the judiciary. After nearly a year and a half in jail, Yahyaoui was released. But because of the torture he sustained during his time in jail, he died March 13th, 2005.
"Through the years of suffering, bloggers have constantly held on to their patriotism and cherished freedom through their fight against dictatorship," Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki maintained.
Speaking before a group of bloggers, reporters and experts at the Carthage Palace, Marzouki added, "Many bloggers shattered the myth of the regime and revealed its lies, using their keyboards and spurred by their determination and dignity."
Writing at webdo.tn, blogger Jasmin explained that she rejected the holiday because freedom of the internet was a national cause that should be enshrined in the constitution. "Paying tribute to Zouheir Yahyaoui can be in the form of spreading access to the internet or educating students in schools about his fight, or naming a street after him," the blogger added.
Hana Trabelsi, a blogger and a reporter, told state-owned TV that she was not happy because "those who tortured Zouheir Yahyaoui have not been held accountable to their actions yet. Nor was the censorship 'Amar 404'."
"I still recall Ben Ali when he used to celebrate the Human Rights Day and the Freedom of the Press Day, though none of that existed," she added.
Under Ben Ali, Tunisia ranked low on world indices for freedom of the press and the internet. "Amar 404" – which appeared when a website was blocked – became a notorious code across Tunisia. As such, workarounds using proxies became popular in Tunisia.
Judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui is one of the prime proponents of the day. "It is a tribute to freedom, which we have long fought for," the judge said. "It is also a day for doing justice to all reporters and bloggers, especially those who sacrificed a lot and suffered a great deal because of the Internet freedom."
Sophien Shawarbi, a blogger and head of the Political Awareness for Youth Education Society group, wrote on his Facebook page that "Zouheir Yahyaoui will remain in the hearts of all internet surfers. He encouraged them to pursue their fight till Zouheir's dream became a reality and tyranny was ousted. Tunisian bloggers are still true to their commitment; they will continue to defend freedom of expression, against all attempts to circumvent it."
Former Press Institute director Mohamed Hamdan wrote on his Facebook page that the day highlighted the key role played by the internet in fighting despotism and making the Tunisian revolution a success.
"March 13th is now celebrated as the National Internet Freedom Day, as a tribute to all those who sacrificed their lives and were thrown in jail for using the internet as a tool for fighting for democracy," Hamdan wrote, adding that the day also marked the end of the chapter of internet persecution in Tunisia.
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