In the past few days my Twitter feed was constantly blinking concerning the 22th of May global protest that Tunisian activists were trying to organize all over the world against government Internet filtering. Slim Amadou, a prominent Tunisian blogger, was reported missing for some days and everybody on Twitter was asking through tons of retweets “have you heard from him?”. Today Sami Ben Gharbeia, director of advocacy at Global Voices, posted a link with the answer (read here on the C.R.I.M.E report). Unbelievable, or just a tale of ordinary madness from the country that in 2005 hosted the World Summit on the Information Society?
Slim Amamou’s mistake was to request a permit for a rally in Tunis. The local cyber activist joined with several colleagues to plan a peaceful demonstration against online censorship, part of a May 22 worldwide day against government Internet filtering in Tunisia. But as Slim filed the official paperwork, police swooped in, detaining him and demanding he record a video asking people not to attend the demo.
Tunisia was the first Arab country to introduce Internet access and paradoxically remains a trailblazer – only now with world-class Internet censorship. The May 22 global protest targeted “Ammar 404,” the imaginary censor Tunisians have created whose name is a pun on the “Error 404” message displayed when trying to access censored content. Tunisians living abroad took to the street to protest in front of their country’s embassies and consulates in Bonn, New York, and Paris.
But in Tunis, authorities would allow no such demonstration. During Slim’s lengthy detention (along with fellow activist Yassine Ayari) he had to record a ” public service announcement” urging protestors to stay home. He was also forced to sign a document stating he “understood that his call for a demonstration is wrong.” The next day, a phalanx of Tunisian police gathered outside the Technology and Communications Ministry, which runs the country’s Internet firewall.
Still, young Tunisian organized flashmobs in Tunis cafes wearing white t-shirts to show their defiance to the government ban. And Slim, despite it all, refuses to be silenced. In fact, he maintains a steady stream of commentary via his Twitter feed, appropriately named “Slim404.”