A blogger in Tunisia: My life with the censor

The specter of government opposition to blogging, journalism, and free expression in general in Tunisia is so intense that the mere appearance of a specific name online is enough to push the government to block the Web site where it appears, even if that site is not critical of the government. 

My personal story with blocking and hacking is a long one; my blog The free pen was blocked inside my country as soon as I created it. Every time I changed its address throughout 2006 and 2007, the Tunisian censor would track it down and block it. From one instance of obstruction to the next, the censor finally said his final word when he decided to hack the blog in its entirety in May 2007. He did this using advanced technology that removed all of my material, and replaced it with an image of skeletal remains to symbolize that free expression lives or dies at his whim.

After that, I did not consider creating another blog by the same name; I wanted this hacking incident to remain as a stain of shame, providing further proof that the alleged freedom of expression exalted in my country’s official statements is nothing more than an illusion that only exists in official speeches.

This is not all. Before the censorship of my blog ever occurred, out of all the Arab governments only the Tunisian regime decided to block the Web site of Al-Arabiya news channel, as of November 12, 2005. This occurred after the site published impartial reports about the human rights situation in Tunisia, which I submitted in my capacity as a correspondent for the site. The site remained blocked for nearly four years and was only unblocked two months ago when it became evidently clear that I was no longer a correspondent.

The Tunisian government then went on to block many sites simply because they had published materials written by me, including the Web site Al-Watan. It became such that the mere presence of my name on a site became synonymous with it getting blocked, even though I am merely a writer who dispenses letters and words, and not bullets from a gun.

I was then put in jail and the regime was given an eight-month respite from my blogging, and from the words of truth I penned and sent out across Web. When I got out of prison, I found that the censor had upgraded his arsenal. He no longer blocked the Web sites that published my writing; instead he would only block the links and the specific pages that featured my materials. This is what the censor did when I wrote an article for the site Qantara in Germany, where I detailed the Tunisian government’s assault on independent journalists criticized the charades that are the elections in Tunisia, Algeria, and Mauritania.

The regime blocked only those two articles, and spared the remainder of the site so as to avoid the accusation of having blocked yet another Web site in its entirety. In effect, the regime is sending a clear message that its problems reside with Slim Boukhdhir and not with this or that international Web site.

The government forgot just one simple matter: It has never succeeded in breaking this pen in spite of all its attempts, and it never will.

Tomorrow is a new dawn.

Slim Boukhdhir is a Tunisian blogger and journalist.

(Translated from Arabic)