News

May 7, 2008 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Government steps up Internet censorship, blocking access to collaborative news website and filtering email


Reporters Without Borders condemns the Tunisian government's censorship of the international French-language news website Come4news (http://www.come4news.com/), to which access has been blocked in Tunisia since 10 March. “Come4news (C4N) allows Internet users to express themselves directly online,” the press freedom organisation said. “Banning access to such a website in Tunisia, where the number of Internet users is growing steadily, just helps to reduce the country's Internet to silence. We call on the government to give an official explanation for the decision.” Come4news administrators were notified by their Tunisian readers that access to the collaborative site had been blocked in Tunisia. They appealed to President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali on 17 March to reverse the decision. Come4news has still not received any explanation from the Tunisian authorities or from Tunisian ISPs. The website's administrators think it was censored because it posts articles from the Tunisia Watch blog (http://tunisiawatch.rsfblog.org/), which is banned in Tunisia. Dubbed the “Wikipedia of citizen journalism,” Come4news currently has a total of 1,648 French-speaking reporters who contribute news reports of all kinds and are controlled by easy-going moderators. More than 16,000 articles have been posted on the site since its launch in 2006. Internet users in Tunisia represented about 5 per cent of its readership. Reporters Without Borders is also surprised by the problems Tunisian Internet users are having with their email. Messages sent to them by human rights organisations such as the International Association for Supporting Political Prisoners (AISPP), the Tunisnews website or Reporters Without Borders are illegible on arrival. Several sources said the messages can be seen in the inbox and can be opened, but often there is nothing inside and, once opened, they disappear from the inbox. “It looks like badly concealed filtering,” a specialist said. Here is a passage from a discussion between two Tunisians about their email correspondence (their online pseudonyms have been changed for their protection): “XX says (18:51): Your pc acts up from time to time c=12FF/ says (18:52): I opened the message and I found this in English: “Yesterday I ate a lovely cheesecake, but now I have a terrible stomach-ache. Are you a doctor.” It is bizarre. XX says (18:52): You mean, no attachment? c=12FF/ says (18:52): No (...) (18:57): The problem is that the message disappears afterwards. It is not normal. (...) XX says (19:21): I have just sent you a third message ... Can you see what you have received? c=12FF/ says (19:21): In English: “We will meet next Sunday. Hoping you will be there. Greetings” (...) What are these messages in English that come with your emails? (19:22): and the weirdest thing of all is that your messages disappear afterwards. Without a trace.” On 22 April, Reporters Without Borders sent a press release about the plight of the Tunisian opposition weekly Al-Maoufik to one of its contacts. The message's subject line was “TUNISIA (Press release) - double financial threat to weekly Al-Maoufik.” The sender was RSF INTERNET ([email protected]). When the recipient opened it, this is what he read: see you From: [email protected] Top of form Bottom of form Excuse me, have you seen Barbara? I'm looking for her everywhere. Çççççççççççççççççççççççççççççççççç Tunisia is the Maghreb's most repressive country as regards on online free expression and it is on the Reporters Without Borders “Internet enemies” list. Nonetheless, bloggers are active in Tunisia. Videos posted online on 10 April showed the size of protests in the towns of Redeyef and Diin Moulares in the southern mining region of Gasfa and the repression that ensued. Participate in an online protest in Tunisia to demand the release of journalist Slim Boukhdir, who was sentenced to a year in prison on 18 January, and to demand unrestricted Internet access.