Tunisia Celebrates Internet Freedom by Continuing to Quiet Those Who Dare to Use It

Press Release
April 26, 2013

Tunisia Celebrates Internet Freedom by Continuing to Quiet Those Who Dare to Use It

Jabeur Mejri is one of many Tunisian bloggers who have been jailed or face charges for peacefully expressing their opinions online

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @AIUSAmedia

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Tunisia should mark its National Day of Internet Freedom on March 13 by immediately and unconditionally releasing 28-year-old blogger Jabeur Mejri, who has been in prison for more than a year, says Amnesty International.

“It’s ironic that on March 13 last year, President Moncef Marzouki was giving a speech honoring bloggers while, at the same time, a court was trying Jabeur Mejri for his online posts,” said Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Mejri was arrested on March 5, 2012 and sentenced on March 28 to seven and a half years in prison and a fine of 1,200 Tunisian Dinars ($757) after a court in Mahdia, eastern Tunisia, deemed posts he made online insulting to Islam and Muslims.

On June 23, 2012, the Monastir Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and his sentence. His lawyers then took the case to the Court of Cassation, which is still due to rule on the case.

“Jabeur Mejri is a prisoner of conscience – he should never have been convicted, let alone sent to prison,” said Hadj Sahraoui. “The Tunisian authorities must quash his conviction and sentence against him.”

As Amnesty International launches an international campaign for the immediate and unconditional release of Mejri, his sister told the organization: “Jabeur is worried and depressed because he has been in prison for a year now, and he feels that he has been forgotten.”

Last year, the Tunisian President designated March 13 as National Day of Internet Freedom, in honor of online political activist Zouhair Yahyaoui, who died on that day in 2005 at the age of 36 after spending 18 months in prison.

However, other Tunisian bloggers continue to face legal proceedings for their online comments. Mejri’s friend, Ghazi Beji, was also convicted and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in the same trial although he had already fled the country for his safety by that point.

In another case, Olfa Riahi faces charges, including defamation, after publishing information on her blog about former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rafik Abdessalam, relating to allegations that public funds were misused.

Abdessalam denied the allegations, filing a complaint against Riahi on charges of damaging his reputation and that of other public institutions.

“While Tunisia celebrates internet freedom, in reality, it is tightening its hold on those who peacefully criticize the government, speak out, or express their opinions,” said Hadj Sahraoui. “It is time for Tunisia to show that it is truly moving forward to respect freedom of opinion and expression by immediately repealing laws which unduly restrict freedom of opinion and expression.”

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists, and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth, and dignity are denied.