- Global Voices - https://globalvoices.org -

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

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Tunisia, Citizen Media, Freedom of Speech, Law, Media & Journalism, Politics, Protest

This post is part of our special coverage Tunisia Revolution 2011 [1].

Camera in chains photo by Nawaat.org

Tunisian Ramzi Bettaieb (aka Winston Smith) is a Nawaat.org [2] 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 [3] on 21 May:

Army confiscated 2 cameras from @nawaat [4] while covering the trial of the Snipers. “We're watching @nawaat [4] 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 [5] [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 [7] [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 [8] (Arabic for ‘give back the camera’) and #Liberté_de_presse‬‏ [9] (French for ‘freedom of Press’) to express their support for the journalists’ cause.

Sofien Soulhi (@Suo_Fei [10]) tweets [11] [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 [12]) says [13] [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 [4] 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 [14] 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 [15] 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_ [17]

In this cartoon, by anonymous political cartoonist _Z_ [18], 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 [19] in support of Bettaieb is expected to take place tomorrow morning (June 3). The protest's starting point is Beb Bnet [20], where Nawaat office is located. The protesters will then march to Kasbah square [20], where the Prime Ministry is.

This post is part of our special coverage Tunisia Revolution 2011 [1].