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Tunisian Government Suppresses Freedom of Expression with New Cybercrime Law

Tunisian Government Suppresses Freedom of Expression with New Cybercrime Law
Dec 29, 2022
It looks like Tunisian government uses the new cybercrime law in order to eliminate any criticism of top government officials
Oguz Dagli
Tunisia Suppresses Internet Freedom With New Cybercrime Law - FastVPN
Over the past three months, the Tunisian government has implemented stricter restrictions on freedom of expression, according to Amnesty International. As part of these efforts, a new decree-law on cybercrime was issued on September 13, 2022 by President Kais Saied. The law has been used to open criminal investigations against at least four individuals. The editor of a news outlet and a prominent lawyer are both being investigated for their public criticism of top government officials, while a university student whose Facebook page covers a neighborhood that recently saw clashes between police and protesters is also under investigation. These individuals could potentially face heavy prison sentences under the cybercrime law.
It is deeply concerning to see the Tunisian government taking such drastic and oppressive measures to silence criticism and suppress freedom of expression. The use of a new decree-law on cybercrime to open criminal investigations against individuals who have merely exercised their right to free speech is a blatant violation of international human rights standards and the country's own obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Amnesty International has expressed concern over the potential abuse of this law, stating that it is filled with overly broad and vaguely worded provisions that could easily be used as a tool of repression. The organization also pointed out that the law may discourage people from using the internet due to the fear of digital surveillance and possible prosecution. That is why an increase in VPN usage is expected in Tunisia. Amnesty International called on the Tunisian authorities to immediately repeal the law and drop all investigations based on it.
Since President Saied assumed broad powers in July 2021, judicial authorities have investigated or prosecuted at least 31 people, including journalists, lawyers, and former members of parliament, for their public criticism of the government. The new cybercrime law imposes heavy prison sentences based on ambiguous terms such as "fake news," and grants authorities broad powers to monitor internet use and collect personal data on the pretext of "revealing the truth" or "assisting in investigations."
The rights organization Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Tunisia is a party, guarantees the right to freedom of expression. Any restrictions on this right must be strictly necessary for a legitimate aim and provided by law with sufficient precision to enable individuals to understand their rights and obligations. The ICCPR also requires that any restrictions be proportional to the aim pursued. Amnesty International believes that the Tunisian government's recent actions do not meet these standards and are a clear violation of the country's international human rights obligations.
It is not uncommon for governments to use internet restrictions as a means of exerting control over their populations. By limiting access to certain websites or censoring online content, governments can suppress dissent and maintain their own power. This often leads to a lack of transparency and accountability, as individuals are unable to freely express their opinions or share information that may be critical of the government.
The use of internet restrictions as a tool of control is especially concerning in the current political climate, where access to reliable and accurate information is more important than ever. In times of crisis or political instability, the ability to share and access information can be vital for the public to make informed decisions and hold their leaders accountable. By restricting access to the internet or censoring certain content, governments are effectively silencing the voices of their citizens and undermining the very foundations of democracy.
It is essential that governments respect the right to freedom of expression and refrain from using internet restrictions as a means of exerting control over their populations. Instead, they should embrace the power of the internet as a tool for transparency and accountability, and work to ensure that all individuals have access to accurate and reliable information. So, the Tunisian Government should take immediate action to repeal the new cybercrime law and drop all investigations based on it, in order to uphold its human rights obligations and promote a free and open online environment.
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