One exiled Tunisian blogger, Sami Ben Gharbia, has put together with some Google Maps magic a map of Tunisian political prisoners. This kind of information is rarely available publicly, and banned in Tunisia (and not discussed in the Arab and international media, in which the Tunisian regime buys positive coverage every time it can). A few months ago I attended a meeting of North African human rights activists. There were some Tunisians there who told horrible stories of detention and attacks against the families of political detainees. In the case of one of Tunisia’s most prominent activists, Siham ben Sedrine (whose husband is still in jail), the Tunisian media waged an extremely nasty campaign accusing her of prostitution and published doctored porn pictures of her. While other countries, such as Egypt, have more political prisoners Tunisia has one of the nastiest attitudes to dissidents in the region.
Commenting on the map at nawaat.org, the site Sami runs, astrubal is pretty scathing about Tunisian bloggers’ reaction to the new site – he says there has not been one mention of the site since it was launched a few days ago, and calls the Tunisian blogosphere the ‘lobotomisphere’. Bear in mind that, according to some sources, the Tunisian government is currently holding an estimated 350 political prisoners in prisons around the country, and there are regular human rights reports focusing on the treatment and welfare of the prisoners. Something you’d think was a really major topic of interest for Tunisian bloggers, but astrubal seems to be right – when I checked just now, not one of the French or English blogs aggregated at the Tunisian Blogs aggregator mentioned or linked to Sami’s site. I asked Sami by email why he thought this was the case:
I really do not expect to see the so-called “Tunisian bloggers” or Blogosphere talking about this issue. Most of them have chosen the self censorship and have decided to avoid discussing and writing about political content that may hurt the Tunisian regime. They talk about everything except Tunisians’ interior affaires. It is The Taboo of the Tunisian blogosphere. Besides, I’m part of the banned bloggers who do not save the Tunisian regime and who are not recognized as “member” of the Tunisian blogosphere. As the blogger and journalist Wael Abass wrote last week on the Deutsche Presse Agentur: “Sami Bin Gharbia, the Tunisian owner of Kitab.nl, is destined to become a refugee both physically and virtually. He lives in Holland as a political refugee and he is banned from the Tunisian blog aggregator (…) so he took refuge in the Egyptian blog aggregator hosted by Manalaa.net.”
Not only we are censored in Tunisia, we have also been censored on the Tunisian blogger aggregator and even on the periodic “Echoes from the Tunisian blogosphere” which is published on Global Voices. They do not hear our “Echoes” only because we write politics! We do understand their fear to talk about those issues, especially those living in Tunisia. Hopefully, they understand our concern to defend our citizenship and rights? Remember, this is the Web! And we are committed to defend this extraordinary tool against the censorship and its passive ally: the self censorship.
As Sami says, those within Tunisia who speak out on human rights live in a climate of fear. During the World Summit on the Information Society, Ethan Zuckerman gave a vivid account of meeting with the Tunisian Human Rights League. Tunisian bloggers may not yet be in a position to create or discuss a site like Sami’s, but according to one site that linked to Tunisian Prisoners Map, users from Tunisian ISPs are clicking through.
It’s a very interesting debate, and again do check out the map of Tunisian political prisons — someone needs to do that for every Arab country.