Tuniserne vil ikke la seg kneble igjen!

Tunisians will not be easily unplugged again

16 Jan 2011

Discreet coup or “Jasmine Revolution”, the departure of Tunisia’s despot Zine el Abidene Ben Ali will not end his networked citizens’ calls for reform.

While Tunisians took time to savour the moment, or enjoy their release from detention, or book a emotional flight home, the Twitterverse slipped into post-game pundit mode to consider Friday’s dramatic events in the North African state.

Mindful of the lazy analysis that gave social media undeserved credit for fomenting Iran’s Twitter revolution that wasn’t, there was no rush to be fooled twice by the wave of chatter under the #sidibouzid hash tag that had followed each new development in Tunisia.

Sidi Bouzid was the town where a despairing jobless ex-student set himself alight in December, killing himself and setting off weeks of violence that culminated in Friday’s flight of despot president Zine el Abidene Ben Ali.

Al Jazeera satellite tv was relentless in its coverage, even as Tunisia’s own media stayed resolutely silent. Twitter and 3G phones played their parts and to fill the rest of the information gap left by the pro-state press, Tunisians used well honed circumvention skills to read websites blocked by one of the region’s most advanced web censorship systems.

But Tunisia is a well networked country at a human level too. Young, highly educated, technically savvy, every sector of society has its own community of articulate, engaged critics of the regime. Actors, lawyers, musicians, teachers, trades unionists, most of whom ignored the official press and were unimpressed by state sanctioned broadcasters.

These loosely networked groups were countered by gaggles of made-up organisations founded and funded by the regime to give thin support to its works, wryly named GONGOs or Government Organised Non-Governmental Organisations.

Independents who tried to turn their networks into active civil society groups were prevented from legally registering and thus effectively banned. Those few already registered — such as the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH), the Middle East’s oldest human rights group — or the country’s journalists’ union, found themselves organisationally shackled by a series of arcane legal challenges.

Denial of the right to freedom of association was enforced by the denial of another right, that of a fair hearing before an independent judiciary. Defying international practice, the president’s representatives handpicked judges, punishing those who failed to deliver regime-friendly verdicts with banishment to minor circuit courts the other side of the country.

Yet walking through Tunis’ Palace of Justice last month with independent lawyer Mohammed Abbou, a man jailed, beaten and publicly reviled by the state for years, we could hardly pass for scores of colleagues happy to be seen talking, hugging or kissing him. All under the eyes of the plainclothes police trailing him and us in an intentionally obvious intimidatory manner.

Even in a chamber as firmly controlled as the Palace of Justice, you wondered where the regime was, not least because Ben Ali’s mantra had been that the opposition was  just a tiny minority, funded by hostile governments and manipulated by foreign activists.

Everywhere you went you met well educated and connected people talking, complaining, speculating, sharing banned information.

Ben Ali’s men worked hard to to manipulate the media or sell it off to his friends and family, then assiduously targeted bloggers and social media leaders. Then in his last throw of the dice the night before the collapse, Ben Ali did a bizarre u-turn on live tv, unblocked banned websites and promised media reforms.

It was testimony to the regime’s belief in the significance of free expression. It believed the key to remaining in power lay in stopping Tunisians from talking, by hacking and deleting their e-mail accounts, bugging their phones, bringing trumped up criminal charges against them, or if all else failed, ordering a couple of thugs to give them a vicious kicking.

In the end the message they shared was that the emperor had no clothes. The debate goes on as to whether Twitter played the little boy to point that out first. Whatever, things will not be as they were.

People have been given a voice and they will not readily give it up. Those tweeters and photo sharers who worked hard to document the fall of the old regime will be doubly inspired by Friday’s triumph to track attempts by the new one to obstruct reform.

Even in a chamber as firmly controlled as the Palace of Justice, you wondered where the regime was, not least because Ben Ali’s mantra had been that the opposition was  just a tiny minority, funded by hostile governments and manipulated by foreign activists.

Everywhere you went you met well educated and connected people talking, complaining, speculating, sharing banned information.

Ben Ali’s men worked hard to to manipulate the media or sell it off to his friends and family, then assiduously targeted bloggers and social media leaders. Then in his last throw of the dice the night before the collapse, Ben Ali did a bizarre u-turn on live tv, unblocked banned websites and promised media reforms.

It was testimony to the regime’s belief in the significance of free expression. It believed the key to remaining in power lay in stopping Tunisians from talking, by hacking and deleting their e-mail accounts, bugging their phones, bringing trumped up criminal charges against them, or if all else failed, ordering a couple of thugs to give them a vicious kicking.

In the end the message they shared was that the emperor had no clothes. The debate goes on as to whether Twitter played the little boy to point that out first. Whatever, things will not be as they were.

People have been given a voice and they will not readily give it up. Those tweeters and photo sharers who worked hard to document the fall of the old regime will be doubly inspired by Friday’s triumph to track attempts by the new one to obstruct reform.

Tunisia needs a media worthy of its inspiring election

Tuesday’s expected declaration of Tunisia’s election results will say much about the main players in its great adventure in democracy building. It won’t reveal much about what those players plan to do with with their unique mandate. For that you’ll need an independent Tunisian media, in print, on air and online.

In turn that means a new legal and institutional framework on freedom of expression, swifter development of the broadcast and print media sectors and protections for the the Internet against the resurgence of censorship.

Tunisia’s Sunday elections will establish a 217 member constituent assembly to draft a new constitution and give legitimacy to an interim government ahead of full parliamentary elections.

The extraordinary turnout, an astounding estimated 90%, gives both authority and diversity to the new assembly. It increases the chances that the assembly will allow space for women, rural and inland industrial communities and a proportional voice for minorities – a priority of the Ben Achour Commission that led the election’s organisation.

It also finally gives some kind of true measure to Islamist political influence and brings members of the old regime still in politics out of the shadows.

The stage is set for a complex debate that will test the Tunisian media and its capacity to communicate the works of the new assembly. But despite solid efforts by the country’s post-revolution National Authority to Reform Information and Communication (INRIC) – the media landscape evolution has been slow.

To meet the challenge the new assembly must promote strong constitutional and legal guarantees for freedom of expression rights and access to information. There will need to be a properly supported successor to INRIC, an independent regulatory body that can effectively promote the independence and growth of the media.

The new body and the regulations that it implements will have to guide public service broadcasting as well as private, commercial and community broadcasting and empower and protect journalists dedicated to quality journalism that can serve and inform the public at large.

These points were raised this month by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), currently chaired by Index on Censorship.

Based on the results of a two-day strategy workshop of Tunisian media and legal experts held in Tunis on 27 and 28 September, its report also calls for the promotion of a digital culture, by supporting blogging, online activism and citizen journalism.

It’s not clear how the assembly will handle new legislation, or how it will deal with current draft decrees that will have force of law but in the case of the print and broadcast sector have proven highly contentious in their drafting.

An increasingly heated debate between Islamists and secularists in Tunisia led to a street protest by thousands of liberal demonstrators the week before the vote. On 9 October over 300 pro-Islamists tried to attack the HQ of Nessma TV after a showing of the film Persepolis, which takes an acerbic view of Islamists in Iran.

That was followed by the filing of a claim signed by 144 lawyers alleging breaches of the still valid pre-revolution media law by Nessma TV head Nabil Karoui and articles 226 and 226 (b) of the criminal code prohibiting offences against religion and public decency.

Sami Ben Abdallah, a Tunisian blogger resident in France, was banned from leaving Tunis airport in September and questioned for allegedly sending insulting SMS messages. His family told Reporters sans Frontieres they linked the harrassment to his investigations into a businessman close to the former regime.

These and other incidents suggest that the rights of the independent media in Tunisia is built on much less stable foundations than its citizens expect and demand, especially given its responsibilities in the months to come.

From TMG-chair Rohan Jayasekera´s blog.

Tunisia:

Politimann varslet om tortur – frikjent av militærdomstol

Free expression groups celebrate freeing of whistleblower police commissioner
SOURCE: IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group

(IFEX-TMG) – 3 October 2011 – Free expression defenders are celebrating Thursday’s decision by a military court to drop charges against a Tunisian policeman who blew the whistle on a still-active core of officers from the country’s pre-revolution days – some of them alleged torturers, others linked to Tunisia’s long notorious internet surveillance squads.

Senior Tunisian police commissioner Samir Feriani, a public critic of the way officers previously linked to torture and censorship continue to hold influence over the security services, was dramatically arrested and initially held incommunicado on 29 May. Anti-terrorist police allegedly rammed his car before seizing him.

But on 29 September, a military court acquitted him of charges of “harming the external security of the state,” and declined to hear two other charges of distributing information “likely to harm public order,” and “accusing, without proof, a public agent of violating the law.”

Though the last two charges may yet be transferred to a civilian court, the Thursday verdict was celebrated widely by Feriani’s supporters and his family, including his elderly mother, who was in court for the hearing.

The day-long hearing was observed by members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 21 free expression groups.

Feriani told the IFEX-TMG observers that the verdict was not about him, but about all Tunisia and the right to freedom of expression. He was particularly pleased that the court had proved its independence from political interference and had delivered a fair and transparent verdict.

Thanking the IFEX-TMG for its support, he said he had not yet decided his next steps and would simply “wait and see,” adding, “the most important thing now is Tunisia settles down and the remains of the regime disappear.”

Feriani was arrested and later charged after he sent a strongly-worded letter to Interior Minister Habib Essid in which he blamed current officials for allowing protesters to be killed during the January 2011 Tunisian revolution, and warned that “notorious torturers” remain at large.

He also accused officers of destroying official records, including some taken from the former residence of the late PLO Leader Yasser Arafat. His accusations were reported in two newspapers, El Khabir and l’Audace, before his arrest.

The Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d’édition et de création (OLPEC), a member of IFEX and partner of Index on Censorship, has long argued that the police and security services should be held more accountable and subject to law.

OLPEC secretary-general Sihem Bensedrine said the verdict was a “fair outcome” that could restore some confidence in the Tunisian courts but left questions about the old regime’s lingering power even after the January 2011 revolution.

“It shows how the secret services continue to manipulate the archives,” she said, “denying their victims evidence while exposing the failure of the provisional government to act.”

IFEX-TMG chair Rohan Jayasekera of Index on Censorship added: “The right of whistleblowers to go public and expose wrongdoing when official channels fail to address crimes is clear and absolute. The decision of the court today is evidence that Tunisia can have a future as a mature democracy guided by fair and independent justice.”

For more information:
IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
Rohan Jayasekera, Chair
c/o Index on Censorship
London
United Kingdom
rj (@) indexoncensorship.org
Phone: +44 20 7324 2522

IFEX – Tunisia

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Freedom House
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation (Skills Foundation)
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

——————————————————————————–

Tunisian will not be gagged again

Tunisians will not be easily unplugged again

16 Jan 2011

Discreet coup or “Jasmine Revolution”, the departure of Tunisia’s despot Zine el Abidene Ben Ali will not end his networked citizens’ calls for reform.

While Tunisians took time to savour the moment, or enjoy their release from detention, or book a emotional flight home, the Twitterverse slipped into post-game pundit mode to consider Friday’s dramatic events in the North African state.

Mindful of the lazy analysis that gave social media undeserved credit for fomenting Iran’s Twitter revolution that wasn’t, there was no rush to be fooled twice by the wave of chatter under the #sidibouzid hash tag that had followed each new development in Tunisia.

Sidi Bouzid was the town where a despairing jobless ex-student set himself alight in December, killing himself and setting off weeks of violence that culminated in Friday’s flight of despot president Zine el Abidene Ben Ali.

Al Jazeera satellite tv was relentless in its coverage, even as Tunisia’s own media stayed resolutely silent. Twitter and 3G phones played their parts and to fill the rest of the information gap left by the pro-state press, Tunisians used well honed circumvention skills to read websites blocked by one of the region’s most advanced web censorship systems.

But Tunisia is a well networked country at a human level too. Young, highly educated, technically savvy, every sector of society has its own community of articulate, engaged critics of the regime. Actors, lawyers, musicians, teachers, trades unionists, most of whom ignored the official press and were unimpressed by state sanctioned broadcasters.

These loosely networked groups were countered by gaggles of made-up organisations founded and funded by the regime to give thin support to its works, wryly named GONGOs or Government Organised Non-Governmental Organisations.

Independents who tried to turn their networks into active civil society groups were prevented from legally registering and thus effectively banned. Those few already registered — such as the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH), the Middle East’s oldest human rights group — or the country’s journalists’ union, found themselves organisationally shackled by a series of arcane legal challenges.

Denial of the right to freedom of association was enforced by the denial of another right, that of a fair hearing before an independent judiciary. Defying international practice, the president’s representatives handpicked judges, punishing those who failed to deliver regime-friendly verdicts with banishment to minor circuit courts the other side of the country.

Yet walking through Tunis’ Palace of Justice last month with independent lawyer Mohammed Abbou, a man jailed, beaten and publicly reviled by the state for years, we could hardly pass for scores of colleagues happy to be seen talking, hugging or kissing him. All under the eyes of the plainclothes police trailing him and us in an intentionally obvious intimidatory manner.

Even in a chamber as firmly controlled as the Palace of Justice, you wondered where the regime was, not least because Ben Ali’s mantra had been that the opposition was  just a tiny minority, funded by hostile governments and manipulated by foreign activists.

Everywhere you went you met well educated and connected people talking, complaining, speculating, sharing banned information.

Ben Ali’s men worked hard to to manipulate the media or sell it off to his friends and family, then assiduously targeted bloggers and social media leaders. Then in his last throw of the dice the night before the collapse, Ben Ali did a bizarre u-turn on live tv, unblocked banned websites and promised media reforms.

It was testimony to the regime’s belief in the significance of free expression. It believed the key to remaining in power lay in stopping Tunisians from talking, by hacking and deleting their e-mail accounts, bugging their phones, bringing trumped up criminal charges against them, or if all else failed, ordering a couple of thugs to give them a vicious kicking.

In the end the message they shared was that the emperor had no clothes. The debate goes on as to whether Twitter played the little boy to point that out first. Whatever, things will not be as they were.

People have been given a voice and they will not readily give it up. Those tweeters and photo sharers who worked hard to document the fall of the old regime will be doubly inspired by Friday’s triumph to track attempts by the new one to obstruct reform.

The system was bust before and is still bust, with or without Ben Ali, and still needs fixing.

Special circumstances apply in Tunisia that tend to rule out the weekend’s events as a model for revolutions anywhere, let alone as a harbinger of a Twittered Arab Spring.

The regime’s heart was unusually hollow, even by the standards of the region. Unlike Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali did not buy up a broad core of support to keep him in power, but kept the ill-gotten gains of staggering corruption in the hands of a small coterie of friends and family.

The recent WikiLeaks release of a handful of secret diplomatic cables detailing the depth of this corruption was not news to Tunisians. What seemed to bite deeper was the fact that the US ambassador to Tunis treated it as a tolerable fact, no matter for concern.

Maybe that finally broke the Tunisians of the oft-cited Arab “habit” of living in denial about their problems, and inspired them instead to look among themselves for answers.

It at least raises the possibility that the Arab world’s social networks might yet do more than just be on hand to lubricate a stalled engine for change, driven by economic inequality and fuelled by opportunity.

Rohan Jayasekera