The independent Tunisian online magazine Kalima has suffered an attack that has completely destroyed its web content, and in a separate but related incident, its editor has been abused by police in the street.
The site has been so damaged that its webmasters have been unable to update or even to access it since the morning of 8 October 2008. The site will now have to be completely rebuilt and uploaded.
According to Kalima editor-in-chief Sihem Bensedrine, “the only people who would benefit from an attack on a website that is already inaccessible to Internet users in Tunisia are the security services.”
“I would not rule out the possibility that this act was committed by the secret services, with the aid of hackers or pirates based in Tunisia or abroad,” she added.
The attack on Kalima comes three months after the site was re-launched as multimedia platform and archive.
Other independent sites have been the subject of similar attacks in the past. Tunisnews, which distributes a daily newsletter via email, was targeted in a similar way in April 2008. Judge Mokhtar Yahiaoui’s blog was also the object of such an attack in November 2005.
A number of Tunisian and foreign websites with a political or human rights focus have been censored in Tunisia for several years. The video-sharing sites DailyMotion and YouTube have also been the target of censors.
In a separate incident, plainclothes political police officers subjected Bensedrine to physical and verbal abuse in downtown Tunis, as she was making her way to a solidarity rally for political prisoner, writer and activist Zakia Dhifaoui. Dhifaoui, who was jailed in July, was sentenced to four months and 15 days’ imprisonment.
Zouhir Makhlouf, another activist who was on his way to the same rally, was also subjected to physical abuse and insults. The rally was organised by the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL), an opposition party.
Neziha Rjiba, vice president of the Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC) said they viewed the attack on the Kalima website as a violation of free expression and an attempt to muzzle a free media voice.
“OLPEC condemns the use of violence against human rights activists and the violation of the right to free assembly.”
Bensedrine, who is also spokesperson of the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT), is internationally known for her activism, was awarded the 2006 Index on Censorship / Hugo Young Journalism Award for bringing attention to human rights abuses in her home country. She was also awarded the 2008 Danish Peace Award and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) 2004 International Press Freedom Award
Commenting on the incident, Index on Censorship Associate Editor Rohan Jayasekera said: “The Tunisian authorities’ intolerance of peaceful, independent opinion is well known and well recorded –– and increasingly condemned by its international partners. Yet this kind of thuggery keeps going on.”
He said the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 18 member organisations of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) network was strongly protesting the attacks.