Tunisians use smartphones to fight injustice
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The smartphone has become the weapon of choice for Tunisians seeking to right the wrongs ravaging the cradle of the Arab Spring. From recording bureaucrats who don't bother to turn up for work, to catching policemen abusing their power on camera, more and more people are turning to their phones to capture acts of injustice and post them online.
Over the last three months, social medias users have brought to our attention several videos condemning abuses carried out, for the most part, by bureaucrats working in the Tunisian public administration. People often post these videos on social media in the hope of sparking anger and provoking the authorities into taking action.
This video, posted on Facebook on March 24, lays bare the rampant levels of absenteeism that afflict Tunisia's civil service. It shows a local wondering around an empty office supposedly staffed by workplace inspectors, near the capital Tunis. He even walks into an empty office where, piled on a table, bundles of documents and stamps can be seen. He remarks: "Anyone can just steal them!"
This second video was uploaded to Facebook last January. It shows a city hall employee in Tunis chatting away on the phone, despite the enormous queue of people waiting on other side of the counter.
This third video was also published in January. It shows an employee for the water company in Zaghouan, a city in northeastern Tunisia, asking a customer to leave her office so that she can read her newspaper in peace.
Several videos showing Tunisian police officers abusing their power have also been circulating on social media networks. The latest shows a woman beating and spitting at a man, while police officers - dressed in civilian clothing - do nothing to stop her. They do, however, restrain the man to stop him from defending himself.
This week, a young Tunisian also sent us a video denouncing the blunt rudeness shown by employees of a railway station towards passengers. The footage was filmed several months ago. It shows our Observer [Editor's note: Our Observer requested to remain anonymous, out of fear of reprisals] questioning a station employee about the constant delays. The employee - supposedly in charge of customer service - eventually snaps: "Stop pissing me off! Get lost, go f*** yourself!"
Armed with the video, our Observer claims to have gone to the police to press charges. But the police "refused to do anything and told me that they didn't want to cause problems with the railway workers, because they're agitators who can go on strike at the drop of a hat."
Screen grab of the video sent by our Observer. It shows a railway worker spitting out a barrage of insults in response to questions about constant delays.
But does the act of filming daily injustices actually change anything? Walid Chokri certainly hopes so. He's in charge of a Facebook campaign against corruption that regularly serves as a platform for these videos.
"We launched our campaign on Facebook in 2014. Over the last few months, I've noticed that more and more Tunisians are using their phones as weapons to speak out against abuses, particularly in the civil service. These videos aren't filmed by activists, but by ordinary people outraged by what they see."
Have they had an impact?
"These videos provoke the authorities into reacting. When the target is an administrative body, they normally take disciplinary measures. That was the case with the video showing the empty offices of the workplace inspectors. Disciplinary proceedings were also levelled against the city hall employee filmed chatting away on his phone despite the queue. As for the video showing police officers restraining a man being beaten, the Interior Minister has opened an investigation into the incident. He says that the officers will be punished if they're found to have committed any wrongdoing. "
What about image rights?
Most of the time, bureaucrats shown in the videos are filmed without their consent. What's more, their faces aren't blurred. As such, filming and publishing images of them could be considered illegal. But for activists like Walid Chokri, that's not a problem.
"We don't try to hide the identities of people guilty of abusive behaviour. On the contrary, we want them to be identified so they can be punished. What's more, they're not filmed in a private setting but at work."
Civil society activists aren't the only ones encouraging ordinary citizens to denounce wrongdoing. The Interior Ministry has also set up a website calling on users to speak out against corruption inside the civil service. But for the time being, it's "undergoing maintenance" and not active.