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Censorship

"Liberated" Tunisia Still Censoring Websites 108

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-don't-think-that-word-means-what-you-think-it-means dept.
Frequent Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton writes "Tunisia's high court will decide on Wednesday whether to allow censoring of websites containing pornography or 'calls to violence.' It's disappointing that censorship continues in post-revolutionary Tunisia, but it's enough of an improvement over the old regime, that anti-censorship cyber-activism efforts would probably best be spent on helping other countries." Read on for Bennett's analysis.

In Tunisia, where dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted one year ago amid hopes for a new era of freedom, the high court will decide on Wednesday whether to censor foreign pornographic websites in accordance with local law. Facebook pages that "call for violence" may also be blocked. Conveniently, all the machinery for censoring the Internet in Tunisia is already in place, having been installed under Ben Ali's dictatorship for the purposes of censoring and spying on Tunisian citizens (and, for a while, phishing their Facebook passwords). The irony recalls the situation in Iraq in 2009, when the government announced plans to start censoring foreign websites -- to which Iraqi citizens complained that they thought censorship would end with the fall of Saddam's regime. Actually, apart from the three outlier countries of Turkey, Israel and Lebanon, pornography remains illegal in every Middle Eastern country (and some conservative African nations), including the recently "liberated" ones including Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia. (Although, Iraq's street market in pornography thrives as long as the police have better things to do.)

I'm against such censorship in principle -- I think that even the right to publish and access pornography counts as a fundamental human right. But I think we have to take what progress we can get, and censoring just pornography and calls to violence, is a big improvement over censoring pornography and dissident political speech, which is the norm in most non-"liberated" Middle Eastern countries like Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Syria blocks foreign opposition sites like All4Syria.info, Iran blocks Facebook and YouTube to keep dissidents from posting or viewing anti-government material, and Saudi Arabia blocks Reporters Without Borders and filters the Amnesty International report on human rights in Saudi Arabia (but not the rest of the Amnesty International site!).

Saudi Arabia blocking the Amnesty International report on human rights in their country (while leaving the rest of the site unblocked), in particular, seems like the kind of thing that a government would do more as a "fuck you" to human rights activists, than a means to achieve a practical goal. For one thing, most of the facts in the human rights report about Saudi Arabia -- about sex discrimination and lack of political and religious freedom -- are already well known to the people who live there. And secondly, what percent of the citizens of a country would ever read the Amnesty International report on human rights in that country, even if it were not blocked? How many Americans even know that Amnesty puts out an annual report about human rights violations in the United States? So it seems more like a symbolic move to remind everyone who's in charge. For all the disappointment in the lack of progress for free speech in post-"liberation" countries, the non-"liberated" ones are indeed worse.

As for the Tunisian proposal to censor "calls to violence", I wouldn't always be against that, even in principle. In most countries, direct incitements to violence can be considered illegal (it depends on what you say and, of course, on what judge you get). In a developing country rife with ethnic tensions, even greater restrictions on calls to violence could be justified. When you finally watched Hotel Rwanda , weren't you hoping someone would bust in on that radio DJ telling everyone to kill Tutsis in the middle of a civil war, and blow him to hell? The biggest problem with a rule against "calls to violence" is that the government could stretch the definition to silence political speech. But it's possible to keep that kind of abuse in check, as has mostly been achieved in the U.S. For that, what you need is an independent judiciary, not an abolishment of all rules against calls to violence.

So the free-speech situation in "liberated" Tunisia may be nothing to write home about, but it sounds much better than it used to be, when writing home to complain about it could get you arrested. A Wall Street Journal article from July 2011 describes how, under Ben Ali's dictatorship, Tunisian cyber-activist Slim Amamou had been imprisoned and abused by the police for calling for peaceful demonstrations. Post-revolution, he was freed and asked to join the interim government, where the strictest restriction placed on him was to "stop sending Twitter messages during internal government meetings to his 25,000 followers". They may not have their porn, but that's still progress.

Of course, if someone in Tunisia wants to circumvent the government filters (using tools like proxy sites, VPNs, Tor, UltraSurf, Psiphon, etc.) and get to a porn site, more power to them. I just wouldn't make it a priority to set aside resources to help them get it. Not while there are Iranians who need help getting around the latest restrictions blocking them from Facebook and Gmail.

Two caveats. First, if someone wants to sell circumvention services to Tunisians who just want to get around the porn blocker, that doesn't count as "setting aside resources", so that's a perfectly noble endeavor. In fact, given the economies of scale in the circumvention business, selling to Tunisians could help to bring the price down for other users, including users in countries like Saudi Arabia where the government does engage in political filtering, and where circumvention services could be a tool for social change. Second, providing circumvention services (free or paid) to Tunisians, does probably make it less likely that the new government would revert to political censorship, knowing that many of its citizens have the tools to beat it, even if those tools are only currently used to access porn sites. So to that extent, setting aside resources to provide circumvention services in Tunisia might be a worthwhile cause.

Still, I think it's a lot less important than using circumvention tools to fight political censorship in truly autocratic countries like Iran. For the next generation of proxy servers that I'm rolling out, I'm working on setting aside some of them just for Iranian IP addresses. Even if Iranians just use them to get on Facebook, that's still contributes more to advancing the cause of social democracy, than Tunisians using them to get on Playboy.

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"Liberated" Tunisia Still Censoring Websites

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  • by jaymzter (452402) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:43AM (#39018747) Homepage

    Why is the word liberated in quotes in the article title? Sure, Libya is free from Ghaddafi (sp), but it still is and will remain a Muslim country, where such censorship would be normal.

    Only small children or political naivetes would be surprised at this.

    • This post is about Tunisia, not Libra. Or am I missing something?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I have been of the opinion that the "Arab Spring" has been a bit of a damp squib - Egypt is still rioting, the President left and the military took over, Tunisia elected an Islamist party, Libya has descended into much the same (the "winners" are taking actions against the "losers", to the point where they have forcibly emptied entire towns which supported Gadaffi and will not allow the former occupants to return, creating a large migrant internal refuge crisis which didn't exist before).

      It certainly doesn'

      • by cusco (717999)
        I think you're mistakenly including the 'Powers That Be' in the group 'Everyone'. The situation in Libya is working out exactly as designed. Their socialist system has collapsed, allowing for the looting of oil revenues by the few rather than benefiting the populace. Free healthcare, education, electricity, etc. are now a thing of the past and all of the state-owned utilities can be auctioned off to the multinationals. If you ever thought that the 'Arab Spring' was actually about democracy or freedom yo
      • by couchslug (175151)

        "It certainly doesn't look like it would be the big thing everyone hoped it would be."

        Who is "everyone"? Muslims are still Muslims, primitives are still primitives, and these are not advanced countries or modern cultures in the European sense. They have members with some modern ideals, but that's not at all the same thing.

        Give it sixty or seventy more years at least, and before anyone says "that's a long time" consider how far they came in the last six or seven decades!

        • Give it sixty or seventy more years at least, and before anyone says "that's a long time" consider how far they came in the last six or seven decades!

          For all the irony, many of those countries actually did come pretty far under the now-ousted dictators. If you take Libya, for example, then for an Islamic country it was very acceptive of women rights. Now, it probably won't be - so in many ways, a victory for democracy (and I really mean it - they have got democracy there now, sure enough) results in a backslash against human rights and societal advancements that have already been achieved already.

          To give a hypothetical example, imagine what would have ha

          • by Thing 1 (178996)

            Or anyone could seriously contemplate them joining EU?

            Why anyone would want to join the EU and have their sovereignty taken away from them is beyond me. I was heartened over the weekend with news reports of Greek police unions writing warrants for the arrest of international lenders, for the crime of subverting democracy. How're them apples!??!?!

    • by poity (465672) on Monday February 13, 2012 @11:26AM (#39019301)

      It seems to me the current "liberation" as understood by Tunisians might be defined as freedom from Ben Ali and his family and associates, whereas "liberation" as understood by the author is defined as having the freedoms enjoyed by a handful of secular Western nations. So what we have here is some calling the first steps out of their shackles a liberation, and then someone else saying "you're not out of the prison yet." Maybe they're both right but they're looking at different goalposts.

        If we adhere to the author's standard for "liberated" then very few countries can be described as "liberated" without the "quotation marks of irony". Not that I disagree with the sentiment, it's good to hold countries to higher standards, but just as parent post says, putting the word in quotes implies the author was somehow expecting a very improbable thing.

    • by jaymzter (452402)

      Aww crap, not enough coffee when I posted.

      --- slashpost.1 2012-02-13 12:59:07.000000000 -0600
      +++ slashpost.2 2012-02-13 12:59:40.000000000 -0600
      @@ -1,5 +1,5 @@
      -Why is the word liberated in quotes in the article title? Sure, Libya is free
      -from Ghaddafi (sp), but it still is and will remain a Muslim country, where
      +Why is the word liberated in quotes in the article title? Sure, Tunisia is free
      +from Ali (sp), but it still is and will remain a Muslim country, where
      such censorship would be normal.

    • by stdarg (456557)

      He uses quotes for non-"liberated" as well. To me that means he is making fun of the term "liberated" in general. I think he's trying to say something about one culture not being superior to another so terms like "liberated" are biased. To me it's BS, just like to you, even though we're coming at it from different directions. Funny how that works sometimes.

  • Don't be like the welfare program, which drops you when you save a couple bucks and have a chance of getting out of your predicament in order to guarantee a voting bloc which will continue to vote democrat in order to secure their benefits. Keep providing the assistance that the people need to gain their freedom!

  • Google this (Score:2, Insightful)

    by unity100 (970058)

    "Muslim brotherhood" . this is the organization behind all those 'revolutions' within n. africa and arabia. no exceptions : in libya they got the upper hand and immediately moved to sharia. in egypt, they were the main driving force, but was not the majority, hence they only were able to 'call' for a sharia government. in syria, they are the ones perpetrating the revolution. all of the 'revolutions' involve usage of social media and internet as you can remember - they were prepared for this. they are known

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:58AM (#39018947) Journal

      "Muslim brotherhood" . this is the organization behind all those 'revolutions' within n. africa and arabia. no exceptions : in libya they got the upper hand and immediately moved to sharia. in egypt, they were the main driving force, but was not the majority, hence they only were able to 'call' for a sharia government. in syria, they are the ones perpetrating the revolution. all of the 'revolutions' involve usage of social media and internet as you can remember - they were prepared for this. they are known to be working in libya for a decade now.

      Okay, I Googled it, found the Wikipedia page and found their response to your criticism interesting [wikipedia.org]:

      According to authors writing in the Council on Foreign Relations magazine Foreign Affairs: "At various times in its history, the group has used or supported violence and has been repeatedly banned in Egypt for attempting to overthrow Cairo's secular government. Since the 1970s, however, the Egyptian Brotherhood has disavowed violence and sought to participate in Egyptian politics." Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor, calls it "conservative and non-violent". The Brotherhood has condemned terrorism and the 9/11 attacks.

      The Brotherhood itself denounces the "catchy and effective terms and phrases" like "fundamentalist" and "political Islam" which it claims are used by "Western Media" to pigeonhole the group, and points to its "15 Principles" for an Egyptian National Charter, including "freedom of personal conviction... opinion... forming political parties... public gatherings... free and fair elections..."

      Yeah you used that scary word "sharia" and then oh god no they're Muslim. They must be evil. Well, you know, I know some of the other countries in the world see our Republican party as conservative and threatening to enact similar scary laws against gay marriage and even are seen as violent war mongers.

      But as long as Democracy is in place and the elections are rigged and voters aren't threatened or coerced then we have the ability to change that. At one point in our own nation's history, people were voting in politicians who were okay with slavery! Imagine that!

      Some people in these country want sharia law and if that's what their politicians are running on and win on then that's how democracy is supposed to work. Just so long as the voters can always change it.

      I know it's hard for Americans to grasp this but "Democracy" doesn't mean that whoever you think is best should win the vote in foreign countries.

      • muslim brotherhood is the mirror of an organization that is present in my country. dont tell me what it is. its everything islam, sharia is to be, however yet watered down FOR NOW, so that they will be readily accepted by mainstream. once they have the majority in a country, it turns upside down. like it happened in my country. as you can understand, im not american.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        Some people in these country want sharia law and if that's what their politicians are running on and win on then that's how democracy is supposed to work.

        America's founding fathers had extensive debates about what they called 'democratic despotism'
        The prevailing point of view was that the phrase was a contradiction in terms and that the people would not vote for despotism.
        After a few election cycles, the founding fathers were no longer so sure.

        People voting for tyranny is not at all what Democracy was ever intended to be.

      • At one point in our own nation's history, people were voting in politicians who were okay with slavery! Imagine that!

        Well, that was over 150 years ago, whereas this is now. Feel the difference.

        Also, at one point on one other nation's history, people voted in politicians who were okay with disenfranchising (and eventually mass murdering) a certain part of the population. It turned out later that said people also didn't like democracy much, but hey, suppose they didn't - so long as they had popular support in doing what they did, it was still alright, eh?

        I know it's hard for Americans to grasp this but "Democracy" doesn't mean that whoever you think is best should win the vote in foreign countries.

        I'm not an American, and I understand full well that what we see there

      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        Some people in these country want sharia law and if that's what their politicians are running on and win on then that's how democracy is supposed to work. Just so long as the voters can always change it.

        In a democracy, you're not supposed to be able to use the majority to vote other people's rights away. So, no, sharia law should not be supported in a democratic country; that's not how it's supposed to work. (And, is perhaps why the USA is a "democratic republic"; at its root it's a republic, and we have democracy "for show", just as in that set of states whose electors can decide who to deliver the votes to, regardless of the result of the popular election in that state.)

    • Re:Google this (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp@[ ]il.com ['Gma' in gap]> on Monday February 13, 2012 @11:46AM (#39019613) Homepage Journal

      There never was an "Arab Spring". There was an Islamic Spring. You had to be truly naive to think that liberal democracy was going to sweep North Africa... and apparently, a lot of people in the West were. What happened there was more comparable to Iran in 1979 than the American Colonies of 1776. They tossed out secular dictators for religious rule. If that's what they want, then by all means, that's what they should have. Majorities should mean something. But we should stop kidding ourselves that what's going on over there is about freedom as the West defines it.

      • by El Torico (732160)
        After they rid themselves of tyrants they'll still be enslaved by priests.
      • by couchslug (175151)

        "You had to be truly naive to think that liberal democracy was going to sweep North Africa"

        "Democracy" doesn't automatically turn everyone into secular moderate Leftists? Color ME amazed!!

        • The term "liberal democracy" does not use "liberal" in its mutilated American interpretation, but rather in the original meaning of the word "liberalism" - a political philosophy focused on freedom and equality before law. In other words, a "liberal democracy" is a democracy where individual rights and freedoms are respected and protected. It has nothing to do with "leftism".

          In fact, it doesn't even strictly have to be secular, it just has to avoid stomping on the rights of people in the name of religion. S

          • by Thing 1 (178996)

            Some European countries have legacy of the past in form of a "state church", where a certain denomination is designated as having some priority status.

            State churches seem to be coming back into style, at least with the recent Obama administration prostrating^W capitulating^W compromising with religious corporations, that "certain beliefs can trump citizens' rights."

  • I'm against such censorship in principle -- I think that even the right to publish and access pornography counts as a fundamental human right.

    I don't understand this escalation from liberty to "fundamental human right." It's a liberty we enjoy ... I don't think tax payers should be paying for prisoners to have access to pornography nor do I think such taxes should be used to hand out pornography like we do with food stamps or welfare. Food, shelter, water. Those are basic fundamental rights ... not access to pornography. I think you meant to say "a liberty" and that you don't think it has any moral repercussions. I might just be nitpicking but what do you mean when you escalate it to "fundamental human right"?

    • by klingens (147173)

      From the universal declaration of human rights:
      "Article 19.
              Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

      So according to this, people apparently have the right to create pornography and the right to seek out/receive pornography.

    • by amck (34780)

      By ""fundamental human right" it means that nobody should be allowed deny you this.

      For example the debate over whether Internet access should be a right. Nobody is suggesting that I should get Internet for free,
      or that the government should pay my broadband bill, but rather that it should be unconstitutional for there to be a law
      denying me access to the internet (e.g. the HADOPI law in France, three strikes laws, etc.), because today its effectively
      necessary to participate in democracy: (e.g. this discussio

    • Government is not required to even provide "food, shelter, water". I guess prison is a special case, but prisons don't have to provide porn since prisoners can find a way to get it. The case could be made that porn reduces the dangerousness of ex-cons by reducing mental damage while incarcerated, and should be paid for by taxpayers...though then you might have to provide them with "comfort women" too.
  • by fnj (64210) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:54AM (#39018885)

    As others have pointed out, what does censorship have to do with whether a regime is tyrannical or popularly supported?

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:54AM (#39018893) Journal
    You can be pretty sure that a 'revolutionary' is against the previous regime and at least some of its policies; but that's about all the assurance you get.

    It's not as though every revolutionary is magically also an Enlightenment libertine or something... It'd be nice; but that just isn't how it works.

    Now, seeing as these particular revolutionaries are intimately familiar with the fact that a technological system of censorship, once established, can be used to suppress more or less any category of material with equal ease... there isn't anything architecturally different between the tools needed to block pictures of naked people and the tools needed to block pictures of the interior ministry special squads executing people, nor is there much besides dropping in a new dictionary file that separates squelching 'incitement to violence' from squelching 'criticism of the state'; one would hope that they would understand that such a system is simply too dangerous to be allowed to exist. Even if they get to bask in the warm glow of saving the children from smut today, they'll be maintaining and improving the system that will be turned back against them as soon as the wind shifts.

    My money is on 'Ha. Ha. No they won't. "WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!?!?! wins every time"'. A pity
  • This is actually forgivable compared to how the Saudi public is using their internet freedom: tens of thousands have joined a Facebook page calling for a journalist to be executed for dissing Mohammed. At least this is a post-revolution law aimed at trying to restore civil order. Whether done right or not, at least the purpose is justifiable (which means hopefully there can be good faith negotiation on how to make it work).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think everyone would agree that true child pornography should be banned, as it actively harms a child. Should drawings or depictions of illegal activities, such as child pornography or rape in general, be banned? I've heard the argument that it will encourage people to commit these crimes. How are these depictions any different than free-speech-protected hate speech? How are they different than grand theft auto style video games? Should a movie scene depicting violence be banned because it may encour

  • by Scareduck (177470) on Monday February 13, 2012 @11:01AM (#39018987) Homepage Journal

    there is nothing the oppressed wish to become so much as the oppressor.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We were the first ones that were liberated by the USA and you haven't done a proper job with it. Germany censors many things (also hate speech) you mentioned and even most western music on Youtube.

    So before you start to work on Tunisia, please think about Germany.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Defeated in battle" /= "liberated", if we are to be precise.

      Some Germans were "liberated", but if one may judge by the rather spirited resistance of others on various fronts the idea had limited popularity.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The headline just betrays an ignorance where Western ideals of freedom, liberty and democracy are assumed to be shared by Muslims no differently than others. But as the revolution not just in Tunisia, but also in Libya, Egypt, as well as elections in Kuwait and Morocco have shown, giving Muslims freedom simply means making them free to declare their countries islamic theocracies, and this in turn implies a curb, rather than a resurgence, of individual and collective freedoms.
    • Oh give me a break. Other than Iran, show me a country that has elected a Theocracy so far. The parties that won the elections in Turkey and Tunisia are about as threatening as the Republican party in the US. Quit being hyperbolic. Get back to me when Tunisia's and Turkey's parties decide to ban alcohol or pork, something neither has done and repeatedly said during their election campaigns that they won't do.

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Monday February 13, 2012 @11:20AM (#39019223)

    Unlike Libya, Tunisia didn't have a real revolution. The military still rules the country, it just changed its unpopular puppet to a new one.

    • by denvar (2573449)
      Do you live in Tunisia to say that ?I'am Tunisian, No matter what you think, we did a revolution ! What you say Is WRONG !! The military is not rules the country ! you maybe confused between Tunisia and Egypt.
  • I'm sorry for posting OT (and such a stupid question, too), but my mod points will expire soon. If there's a better place to ask, please let me know (I don't think it rates as an FAQ suggestion.)

    I have recently gotten mod points for the first time.

    I see the dropdown box under comments. I select, say, Insightful on a +3 posting. But the score does not change. /. still tells me I have all 5 mod points left.

    I tried reloading, waiting overnight and 2 browsers (Firefox and current Opera; Linux). For testing, I a

    • by expatriot (903070)

      Yes, the dropbox selection is all that is needed. I only had your problem when working behind a company filter (shocking I know). Possibly something do do with how form posting is handled. Not my specialty, try a different login location/server if you can.

      Firefox generally works better than IE, but I have not tried Opera.

      • Thanks. I use an ordinary connection: PC behind consumer router. I'll wait for other comments; as a last resort, I'll try upgrading Firefox (risking broken plugins; Opera is current already).

    • by u38cg (607297)
      Depending on which interface you are using, you may need to scroll to the bottom of the page where you'll see a moderate button.
      • Ding! We have a winner... and a fool. Thanks! I'm using the Classic Discussion System.

        • by u38cg (607297)
          Heh. I invariably moderate, then forget to press the button when I get to the bottom, if I haven't closed the tab in disgust by that point.
  • Freedom and liberation are relative terms. For that part of the world they've got about as much freedom and liberty as any country in the region is going to allow. This is the same neck of the woods where people are arrested in foreign countries and returned home to be executed for tweeting their thoughts.

    This area has thousands of years of tradition of people having little in the way of rights, education or choice and that isn't going to be overcome in the tiny 'revolutions' that are occurring. All the
  • Just because governments change doesn't mean cultures have to.
  • I'm pretty sure "calls to violence" are not legal speech in the West, either.
  • Last I checked, the US Supreme Court ruled that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment [umkc.edu], and is thus subjected to local "community standards" and jurisdictions. Before everyone gets all outraged that Tunisia bans pornography (and likely overreaches), maybe you should look at your own laws first.

  • Here is the reality: societies with oppressive governments, be they dictators or pseudo-democrats, have oppressive governments because they have oppressive cultures.

    Revolution is an opportunity for small, marginal political change. Yes, Russia is not quite an unfree as it used to be, and Iraq is slightly less free, but neither of these countries compare with freedom in the West (or even when compared with some countries in South America like Chile). Until their oppressive cultures change, government ther

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