The FRANCE 24 newsroom was alerted to a "page not found" problem by a Tunisian web user this morning. The Aug. 1 article about President Ben Ali appeared to be no longer available in Tunisia. One of our Observers in the country, who confirmed the blockage, tells us about the increasing internet restrictions there.
Tunisian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali announced on Wednesday that he will be running for his fifth term in the 2009 elections. 71 years old, Ben Ali has been ruling the country for over 20 years. In the last election, in 2004, he received 94% of the vote.
Following the announcement of his candidacy, the FRANCE 24 editorial team published an article on the website entitled "Ben Ali en quête d'un nouveau bail à Carthage" (Ben Ali to seek fifth term as Tunisian president). This is the article that is now "not found" inside Tunisia; the rest of the FRANCE 24 site is still accessible. (You can read the English version of the article here). The blockage is not surprising, says our Observer; censoring online information is common.
The original page on 8 August 08.
Mokhtar Yahyaoui is a former Tunisian judge. He's been living under police surveillance since he publicly criticised Ben Ali.
This week also saw the trial of four Bizerte activists who protested against Ben Ali as "president for life" on national day. That added extra pressure. There was an enormous amount of ID checks, roadblocks and people getting beaten up. And the omnipresence of online censorship was a way to get the message across that people should keep quiet. They've given us a double dose to scare us.
On top of that, Ben Ali announced that he'd be running for president again. He's trying to instil some calm as not everyone is happy about that here. The authorities are quite aware that people are getting frustrated. With the constant price increases the risk of social rebellion is high. People have started to write things on blog that never would have been before. And the censors are quick to answer them."
The message reads: "The Tunisan web is still highly censured. Trying to open this article in Tunisa results in a 404 error. You need a new proxy to be able to see it - I think that says a lot."