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A Facebook Post in Tunisia Leads to Arrest

July 23, 2009

Social networking has come to the rescue in recent months when journalists and citizens alike have attempted to get around censors to report the news. China and Iran did their best to censor sites like Twitter and Facebook in hopes of keeping citizens from organizing and protesting, and now, Tunisia has joined the list of countries giving added importance to social networking sites.

Earlier this year, a human rights activist in Tunisia posted a message to her Facebook page about the rumored kidnappings of children for their organs. The posted statement, which merely repeated a rumor that was already circulating, lead to the woman’s arrest on July 4th and an 8 month jail sentence for “disturbing public order”.

Khedija Arfaoui is a 69-year old academic and human rights activist who only found out about the charges against her when she came across the announcement in a newspaper on May 31st. According to the newspaper her trial would begin just a few days later on June 6th. She wasn’t formally notified until the day before the trial was set to begin.

Reporters Without Borders says that Tunisia so far has no laws regarding internet and her conviction has no legal standing. The crime of disturbing the public order for which she was accused is punishable by 6 months to 5 years in prison. It also refers only to public places whereas Facebook is regarded as a private space.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.