Tunisia: Protesting the Military's Lack of Transparency and Censorship

This post is part of our special coverage Tunisia Revolution 2011.

Camera in chains photo by Nawaat.org

Tunisian Ramzi Bettaieb (aka Winston Smith) is a Nawaat.org journalist and an activist who has entered his sixth day of hunger strike. He is protesting against the Tunisian military justice's lack of transparency in its handling of the “Martyrs’ Case”. The “Martyrs Case” refers to the military justice investigation into the murder of protesters during the Tunisian uprising which toppled the 23 year rule of Zeine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

More than 300 persons died during the uprising, most of them protesters. So far, the military justice, blamed for its lack of transparency and slow pace of investigation, has not convicted any high official for killing protesters.
On 21 May, as Bettaieb was filming a court hearing in “Martyrs’ Case” at the Military Tribunal of El-Kef, an army general confiscated his two cameras accusing him of “collaborating with foreign forces.”

Nawaat tweeted on 21 May:

Army confiscated 2 cameras from @nawaat while covering the trial of the Snipers. “We're watching @nawaat very closely” said the commander!

On 29 May, military officers forced Lilia Weslati, another Nawaat.org journalist, to delete the videos she took. She tweeted [fr]:

Lors du procès des martyrs, les militaires m'ont obligé à supprimer mes vidéos et à signer un papier pour ne rien diffuser ‪#Tunisie‬ @nawaat

During the Martyrs’ case proceedings, military officers forced me to delete my videos, and to sign a document whereby I commit myself not to broadcast anything

Through his hunger strike, Bettaieb is seeking to push the military authorities to permit journalists and activists to cover the legal proceedings in the Martyrs’ case “without any restrictions”. Journalists are only allowed to film for three minutes at the beginning of any court hearing.

Winston Smith on hunger strike photo by Nawaat

In a statement published on 31 May, Nawaat explains [ar]:

تدور منذ أشهر أطوار أهم المحاكمات و أغربها في تاريخ تونس الحديث.
أهمّها لأنّه تعلّق عليها آمال طوي صفحة مُظلمة من تاريخ تونس,، صفحة الطغيان و الظّلم و الدّيكتاتوريّة.
أغربها لأنّها تدار بعيدا عن أنظار الشّعب …في ظلّ تراكم عناصر و أدلّة تشير إلى إحتمال تورّط وحدات من الجيش في قمع المتظاهرين أيام الثورة.
على هذه الخلفية يعلن فريق نواة عن دخول الصحفيين رمزي بالطيبي و حسام الحجلاوي في إضراب جوع مفتوح بداية من يوم الإثنين الماضي 28 ماي 2012 إحتجاجا على حرمان الصحفيين من التوثيق المصوّر الكامل لأطوار هذه القضية التاريخية و مطالبة بسحب قضايا شهداء و جرحى الثورة من القضاء العسكري الذي أثبت أنّه قضاء إستثنائي، غير مستقلّ و مُختلّ،
For months the most important, and the weirdest trials of the modern Tunisian history, have been taking place. They are the most important, because there are high hopes that these trials will allow to turn a dark page in the Tunisian history; a page of tyranny, injustice, and dictatorship. They are the weirdest, because they are taking place far away from the sights of the people..in light of the accumulation of proof pointing out to the likely involvement of some army units in repressing protesters during the Revolution days(…) Hence, Nawaat team announces that two journalists Ramzi Bettaieb, and Houcem Hajaloui have gone on an open hunger strike starting last Monday (28 May, 2012), in protest at depriving them from fully video documenting the stages of this historic case.

Standing in solidarity with hunger strikers:

As soon as news spread about the hunger strike, Tunisian tweeple have been using the hash tags #رجع_الكاميرا‬‏ (Arabic for ‘give back the camera’) and #Liberté_de_presse‬‏ (French for ‘freedom of Press’) to express their support for the journalists’ cause.

Sofien Soulhi (@Suo_Fei) tweets [ar]:

رمزي بالطبي و حسام الحجلاوي يواصلون إضراب الجوع لنتمتع بالمعلومة و تكشف الحقيقة ‎‫#رجع_الكاميرا‬
Ramzi Bettaieb and Houcem Hajlaoui are carrying on their hunger strike, so that we can have access to information and so that the truth be revealed

Seif Allah Bouneb (@Seif_AllahB) says [fr]:

je viens de revenir du local @nawaat et g rencontré Ramzi Bettaieb et il a tjrs le moral up !! courage man ‪#Liberté_de_Presse‬ رجع_الكاميرا#

I have just returned from @nawaat headquarters, and I met Ramzi Bettaieb. He is still has high spirits. Courage man

Yassine Ayari, a blogger and activist, has gone on hunger strike in support of Winston Smith. He writes about his decision:

This hunger strike is to support Ramzi Betibi in his fight against military (in)justice which is threatening press freedom.

Political Cartoonists Join Cause:

Tunisian political cartoonists whose works have been flourishing since the fall of the Ben Ali rule have also joined Bettaieb's cause.

Cartoon by Seif Nechi

In this cartoon Bakounawar (character of cartoonist Seif Nechi) is illustrated as freeing two cameras with wings from a bird cage. Bakounawar comments:

consider them [cameras] as canary birds! Do not deprive the man from a Tunisian plate (a popular Tunisian dish), and do not deprive us from knowing what happened (during the uprising).

Cartoon by anonymous Tunisian cartoonist _Z_

In this cartoon, by anonymous political cartoonist _Z_, Rachid Ammar, Chief of Staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces, is performing a puppet show. In one hand he holds a police officer, in the other he holds a judge. His eyes turn to a video journalist.

A protest in support of Bettaieb is expected to take place tomorrow morning (June 3). The protest's starting point is Beb Bnet, where Nawaat office is located. The protesters will then march to Kasbah square, where the Prime Ministry is.

This post is part of our special coverage Tunisia Revolution 2011.


  • Bettaieb is seeking to push the military authorities to permit journalists and activists to cover the legal proceedings in the Martyrs’ case “without any restrictions”.

    In free society there is no legal and illegal.We have to do what is right for us and for others.

    Where is the freedom of the mind if we can not think for ourselves.

    where there are obstacles and restrictions there is no freedom.

    I want freedom for the full expression of my personality. “ghandi”

    Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err. It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right. “ghandi”

    “The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”

  • […] outside the court during investigations about those who were killed during the uprising. His cameras were confiscated.A Tunisian general remarked to him that they were monitoring his communications and wanted him to […]

  • […] May 21, an army general confiscated two cameras for Ramzi Bettibi a journalist for the collective blog Nawaat. Bettibi was filming a […]

  • […] 5月21日、陸軍大将は、集合ブログNawaatの記者であるRamzi Bettibiのカメラ2つを押収した 。Bettibiは、ベン・アリ政権を倒した反乱の際に抵抗者たちが死亡した事件における法廷審問を撮影していた。このいわゆる「殉死者の裁判」での審問の取材制限の撤廃を求めて、Bettibiは数日間、ハンガーストライキを行った。 モンセフ・マルズーキ現大統領の元顧問であるAyoub Massoudiは、旧カダフィ政権の首相のチュニジアからリビアへの引き渡しをテレビで公表した件で、軍事裁判に臨む。 Massoudiは、バグダディ・マハムーディ(訳注:旧カダフィ政権首相)の引き渡しを、「国家への反逆」と評し、Rachid Ammar(チュニジア軍参謀長)とAbdelkrim Zbidi(防衛大臣)に対し、6月14日に行われた引き渡し手続きをマルズーキ大統領に届け出なかったことを非難した。 9月21日、Massoudiは、4ヶ月の執行猶予付の有罪判決を言い渡された。次の法廷での審理は、1月3日に行われる。 […]

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