INTERNET CENSORSHIP ON THE INCREASE IN TUNISIA

Internet

Omar Mestiri, the editor of the opposition online newspaper "Kalima", is the victim of judicial harassment, Reporters Without Borders has said of a libel suit that could result in a three-year prison sentence. The organisation also called on the authorities to stop blocking the video-sharing site Dailymotion ( http://www.dailymotion.com ), which has been inaccessible in Tunisia since 1 April.

"The lawsuit against Mestiri is absurd because it is based on an online article that cannot even be accessed from within Tunisia," Reporters Without Borders said. "But we take this case very seriously. The three and a half year sentence imposed on lawyer Mohammed Abbou in April 2005 for an article posted online showed how the Tunisian courts are controlled by the government and how a libel suit can lead to a heavy sentence."

The press freedom organisation added: "The censorship of Dailymotion's website shows that the government, which is as paranoid about the Internet as it is about the traditional press, is ready to ban tens of thousands of inoffensive videos in order to block a handful it does not like."

The suit against Mestiri was brought by Tunisian lawyer Mohammed Baccar over an article posted on 5 September 2006 accusing him of fraud and forgery. Mestiri was summoned by the deputy state prosecutor to respond to a charge of libel on 29 March. Mestiri's lawyers have challenged the suit's legal basis on the grounds that Kalima's site is blocked in Tunisia and the article could not have been accessed there.

The blocking of the http://www.dailymotion.com site may have been prompted by the posting of a number of videos on the political situation in Tunisia.

Reporters sans Frontières