Independent news site destroyed

New York, October 14, 2008–Kalima, an independent Tunisian online news site, was hacked into and shut down on October 8, according to the Web site’s staff.

Lotfi Hidouri, an editor at Kalima who lives in Tunis, told CPJ that the Web site was blocked and its entire contents, including an eight-year archive, were destroyed. Kalima, which is published in Arabic and French, has been banned in Tunisia since it was launched in 2000, and authorities denied permission to launch a print edition in March 2008. The site is hosted in France.

“The only ones who benefit from this attack are the authorities,” Hidouri told CPJ. He said he believes the site was attacked by the government–that it may have attracted too much attention for their liking since it only started updating daily in July, as opposed to once a week or every other week previously. Tunisnews¸ another independent news site, has been blocked inside Tunisia since its launch in 2000.

Kalima‘s staff plans to relaunch the site.

“We condemn the attack on Kalima, which was one of the few independent voices available to Tunisians,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “We call on the authorities to stop blocking this and other critical news Web sites.”

A CPJ mission to Tunisia in September 2008 found that authorities in Tunisia control the registration of print media and licensing of broadcasters, and refuse permission to critical outlets. Critical online news sites, such as those belonging to international human and media rights groups, as well as the popular ‎video-sharing site YouTube, are blocked by the government, CPJ’s investigation found.

Tunisia, the Arab world’s leading jailer of journalists since 2001, frequently brings charges ostensibly unrelated to journalism as way to pressure outspoken reporters while deflecting international criticism, CPJ research shows. On July 21, Internet journalist Slim Boukhdhir, who had been held for eight months after writing articles critical of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the first family, was freed. Boukhdhir had been found guilty on what were widely seen as fabricated charges of insulting a public employee, violating “public decency,” and refusing to hand over identification to police.