Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jebali has outlined government plans to “secure the electronic space of the country”, sparking fears that the government plans to reinstate internet censorship.
The programme will bring together a team of experts not only from the Ministry of Technologies of Communication, but also from the Ministries of Interior, Defence, and Justice.
Activists and bloggers concerns that this announcement could lead to the reintroduction of internet censorship were heightened by the news that the Ministries of Interior and Defence would play a role in “securing” the net.
In an interview on 12 April with state television channel Al-Wataniya TV 1, government spokesperson Samir Dilou, attempted to reassure the public. He said “securing” the internet is for “users’ benefit” and aimed to “prevent defamation and other virtual dangers”.
According to a Bloomberg investigation, the once feared Interior Ministry acted not just as an internet watchdog, but also intercepted and altered emails.
“When the Interior Ministry was involved in “securing” the internet during Ben Ali’s regime, the people couldn’t impeach it after the revolution. We are still unaware about the processes that existed to censor the web. And if we don’t know our past mistakes, we are most likely condemned to repeat them. So I fear that we are paving the path for a comeback of censorship”, said Bassem Bouguerra, a blogger, to Index.
After the 2011 uprising, both the judiciary and the Ministry of Defence have been involved in internet filtering. In May 2011 the Military Tribunal of Tunisia ordered the filtering of five Facebook pages over the publishing of content that the Ministry of Defence claimed sought to “damage the reputation of the military institution and, its leaders”, “destabilise the trust of citizens in the national army”, “and spread disorder and chaos in the country”.
Meanwhile the Tunisian Internet Agency is fighting a court decision ordering the filtering of X-rated websites.
The involvement of these ministries, whether before or after the uprising, in a number of censorship related tasks, explains the concerns that free speech advocates, and bloggers have about the government’s future plan.
Sleh Din Kchouk, President of the Tunisian Pirate Party believes the government’s plan will only “strangle [the] internet”.
“If the government does go ahead with this plan, it will prove to the Tunisian people that it is not here to defend freedoms as it is claiming, but it is here to cover up for people affiliated to the former regime, because it is only through Internet we can reveal the wrong doings of these people”, he added.