The discrepancy Of Cyber-liberties in Tunisia
‘The Anti-Terrorism Law’
Four Years ago, the Tunisian people built a model of sole success with a newly born democracy and a promising enjoyment of civil liberties and political inclusion which Syria, Libya, Yemen and Egypt were craving for.This fantasy of leadership and consciousness faded away simultaneously as the wind of terrorism is stripping the falling leaves of the Arab spring. The country that triggered a historical change in the MENA region is now responsible for more than 3000 fighters in favor of ISIS in Syria Libya and Iraq.
Tunisia has come up with several debates and provisions over the legislation which dealt with "the fight against terrorism", but none reached the parliament because of the lack of consensus. The latest version of the law allows courts to impose death sentences for terror convicts and make it easier for investigators to use phone-tapping against suspects. Activists also affirmed the law would allow the authorities to detain suspects for 15 days without access to a lawyer or being brought before a judge, as well as putting harsh restrictions on journalists.
This anticipated event led the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP) to vote overwhelmingly (172 in favor and 10 abstentions) to pass the Anti-Terrorism Bill after the two attacks the country suffered from (the Bardo attack and the Sousse attack). A far-reaching legislative package intended to strengthen the nation’s national security measures against terrorism.
The prime Minister Mr.Habib Essid announced a string of tough measures to fight extremism, including examining the funding of organizations suspected of promoting radicalism, closing some 80 mosques outside government control and declaring certain mountainous zones military areas, but these attacks are not unprecedented. The Ben Ali regime was infamous for the oppression and manipulation of the press, freedom of expression and the eradication of political diversity, pluralism, dissidents, opposition groups, civil society, and online activism.
Nevertheless, these desperate attempts of the Government Coalition to extinguish the burning threat of extremists; the ones according to Rached El Ghannouchi ‘ are missionaries of a new culture ‘. Tunisia was not the first to implement such law ; other countries had to do the same for example Canada, France, Australia, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, have given their security apparatus a sweeping power over online human rights and freedom of expression.
The issue is far more alarming and complicated why? because this law; according to Online activists is a setback and a shameful way to tame the values of the Tunisian revolution that called for citizen's dignity and social justice.
When we tackle oppression and violation of online rights by the authority, a list of online activists comes in mind, the most talked about are "Azyz Amamy" , "Mouhib Toumi" and "Anis Ayari Azyz" who started the campaign called ; ‘I burned the police station too’ and "Mouhib Toumi" who was accused of defaming the president and inciting hate speech against national security officers on Facebook during the campaign "where Is the Oil" on social networks three years ago in 2012. The Tunisian authorities tried to hold him accountable for slander, incitement and insult.
The Tunisian authorities tried to manipulate the interrogation to link him with terrorism in general and ISIS in particular by using the punitive aspect of the 2003 anti-terrorism law. The same dreadful treatment for Yassine Ayari, a prominent and controversial blogger who was charged with defaming the military and sentenced to three years in prison, but did not find out about the charges or the sentence until he was arrested at the airport on December 24, 2014 upon returning to Tunisia from France, according to one of his lawyers.
In other words, we have reached a dilemma where the interests of the state institutions of national security and political interests contradict with those of media professionals, journalists, lawyers, activists and bloggers showing a certain understanding in the necessity for the state to protect itself yet voicing concerns about the possible "unconstitutionality" of the new anti-terrorism bill. However, the constitution protects the rights of which are crucial in a democracy to reinforce public accountability and transparency in the government. As a result, the law is punitive and violates the constitution and international human rights law.
The new introduced law violates the fundamental freedoms and rights including liberty, freedom of expression, privacy, freedom to assembly, fair trial and right of defence, freedom to movement and freedom of association. The anti-terrorism law was followed by the reconciliation law which will include the possibility of granting a ‘pardon’ to those convicted of financial irregularities as long as they agree to return any pilfered funds or property. This Bill was followed by a movement called ‘ I will not forgive'
If passed, the proposed bill could mean the cancellation of all provisions related to financial corruption and misappropriation of public money mentioned in the Law number 53 of the Transitional Justice act.
In just two days the campaign has already scored more than 5,000 followers on social media, demonstrating the public’s opposition to the proposed bill , In this case the government had no choice but to force a state of emergency to contain the protests in the streets . The Government’s insistence on keeping the corrupt business men’s names secret contradicts with the principles of transparency and, here again, is another attempt to debunk the awareness of online activists in Tunisia to guarantee their offline and online constitutional rights.
Marwa Gibran (Tunisia): MA degree in Business, Social and political activist and Freelance blogger and journalist.