By Houda Trabelsi
A recent court ruling in Tunisia ordering internet filtering is raising concerns of a potential return to censorship.
The removal of internet controls in the wake of the Tunisian revolution raised the ire of some Islamists, including three conservative lawyers who sued to seek the re-imposition of internet controls. The Tunisian Internet Agency refused to implement a judge’s May 26th order to block pornographic sites. Instead, the agency sought a stay of the ruling, a motion which was denied on June 13th.
“These pornographic sites have negative effects on the psychological, physiological, social and educational level on individuals and they go against the values of Arab-Islamic society,” lawyer Monem Torki told Magharebia.
In response to the court ruling, the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) said it did not bear sole responsibility for closing such sites. “There are other parties directly concerned with the matter, namely internet service providers,” agency chief Moez Chakchouk said at a June 7th press conference.
“The agency refuses to re-enter the game of blocking sites, as was imposed upon it by the former regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who signed off on decisions to block sites,” Chakchouk stressed.
However, ATI announced on June 14th that it would comply with the appeal court’s ruling and implement a block on pornographic websites.
“The internet has many repercussions on the economy of the country and the country’s image abroad. Thus, any process to block hurts its image, and moreover, blocking must be within clear legal frameworks,” Chakchouk said.
He also suggested giving pornographic websites their own internet domain in order to make it easy for consumers to filter the web as they saw fit. Seven pornographic sites rank in the top 100 most-visited internet pages in Tunisia, according to officials.
Blocking the controversial web pages raised concern on the Tunisian street, with some saying that visiting such sites was a personal freedom and that shutting them down would do nothing to tackle corruption or other pressing issues.
“Frankly, such judicial lawsuits make me sick and make me laugh,” commented Mounir Belkacem, a young Tunisian. “Those who want access to such porn sites or to watch pornographic films have many solutions. These lawyers are promoting the theory of ‘everything prohibited is desirable,’ and Tunisian youth are intelligent and skilled in technology and will find many ways to access such sites.”
Media student Lobna Sassi told Magharebia, “Shutting down these sites may be the beginning of going backward and returning to the rejection of control of the internet proclaimed with the demise of the former regime.”
“It is better for those who decided to close these sites to educate young people about their danger and psychological and physiological impact,” Sassi added.
There were also those who supported the decision to block pornographic sites, seeing them as an encouragement to vice.
“The decision to close such sites is a good step to control negative use of the internet,” Mouna Belhej said. “I think what is on these sites, in addition to being contrary to Islamic and human morals, has negative effects we can do without.”