TUNIS, TUNISIA – Tunisian police are arresting social media activists for criticizing the government online and calling for protests, according to rights groups.
Ten years after Tunisia’s Arab Spring uprising for democracy, the country has been hit by a wave of riots and protests over ongoing political unrest and a poor economy.
While protesters take to the streets, bloggers criticize authorities online. Rights groups say police are cracking down on them with at least 50 arrested so far this year.
Sitting in his bedroom, Ahmed Ghram said he was jailed for two weeks because of a Facebook post.
“When you are treated less than a human for that long it, kind of, leaves its mark on you. It is shameful for the government and for the people that we can still get prosecuted and arrested for our freedom.”
Tunisian activists say a decade after the Arab Spring, there is still a price to pay for speaking their minds.
Thirty-three-year-old Aymen Dridi is protesting in Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis with other social media activists.
Freedoms are threatened, says Dridi. Today freedom of speech is being attacked, he says, and people are still getting arrested during the protests.
Rights groups say progress after the Arab Spring is being reversed.
Amna Guellali, Deputy Regional Director of Amnesty International, is in her office, analyzing the situation in Tunisia.
“After the revolution, freedom of expression became a reality in Tunisia,” said Guellali. “But we noticed in the last three years an increase in prosecution of bloggers and activists for their online posts. We call on the Tunisian authorities to repeal these abusive and oppressive legislations.”
Authorities are using a pre-Arab Spring law to threaten internet freedom and those who “insult or disturb others” with up to two years in prison.
Mohamed Ali Bouchiba, co-founder of Bloggers Without Chains, is very critical.
“Article 86 of the Telecommunication Code was written in an era where there was no Internet, meaning before the Arab Spring and before the youth got freedom of speech,” says Bouchiba. “Charging under it is a systemic state policy that aims to shut mouths, prohibit any attempt to discuss politics and make it a taboo,” he says.
Tunisian authorities declined requests for a comment.