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Freedom of expression… a right to protect


After the mass protest in 2011, Tunisia has lived one of the most vibrant political turning points in its history. Actually, the current Tunisia’s transition to democracy is a promising reform process since it has created open debates about urgent issues related to human rights and freedoms.

However, a wide array of threats has appeared and considered as an obstacle to continued progress of the democratic transition.

A look ahead:

The repressive era has left behind numerous laws that violate the freedom of expression and have been used historically by the old regime to keep any opposite voice silent. The same laws are still practiced by authorities nowadays. In fact, the guise of protecting public order and the country’s moral values has always been a main obstacle in the face of freedom of speech in Tunisia.

As a matter of fact, any limitation on the freedom of speech without being prescribed in details by law could be a possible oppressive restriction in the future. We can note as examples laws penalizing speech opposing to religions, laws penalizing speech that offenses public order or national security… 

However, it’s important to note that Tunisia is also a member of the “African Union” and signatory to the human  rights instrument for the African continent: the “African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights” (ACHPR)(47 Article 9 of the ACHPR guarantees freedom of expression in the following terms:

1. Every individual shall have the right to receive information.

2. Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.

Furthermore, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted  the declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (African Declaration), in 2002, that affirms that “ Any restrictions on freedom of expression shall be provided by law, serve a  legitimate interest and be necessary and in a democratic society.” Moreover, few days ago, the National constituent has adopted the following article in the new constituent:

“Article 30: the freedom of opinion, thought, expression, information and publication is guaranteed. These freedoms should not be subject to prior checking.”

Yet, it’s still obvious that the number of calls for violence has increased. According to the “Human Rights First” report, “among the most pressing threats journalists identified were “numerous aggressions against journalists, some of whom have received death threats”.”

As a matter of fact, those challenges do exist on both online and offline. Moreover, the rise of social media and internet has empowered the dissemination and publication of provocative material in order to provoke violent responds. As a consequence, the past few years witnessed a considerable number of political violence and aggressions against known figures in public life.

In conclusion, both restrictive laws and calls of violence present serious threats to Tunisia’s democratic transition.

In order to protect the freedom of speech, it’s important to commit to a number of principles for example states’ surveillance should be authorized by laws, application of laws integrity…

Yet, a question could be asked: Protecting freedom of expression online is it the same as protecting freedom of expression offline?

First, let’s identify the difference between the “real-law” approach and “cyber law” approach: The real-law approach means that all legal rules could be applied to the cyber world. In this case a variety of legal instruments could be applied such as jurisdiction, arbitration …

On the other hand, the “cyber law” approach necessitates the formulation of new rules to regulate the online space.

Yet, whatever the approach adopted by the country, it’s necessary that the approach respect the common freedoms without   restrictions.

Recommendation to adapt in the strategy:

  • The freedom of expression should be defined by law.
  • It’s recommended to protect the right to hold and express opinions within the constitution to every person.
  • It’s important to avoid the implementation of laws that restrict the freedom of expression such as laws penalizing insults to religion, or laws penalizing speech based on offenses to public decency or national security …
  • Make sure to respect reputations of others.
  • Since the Tunisian Internet Authority (also known as “ATI”) has confirmed in many cases her inability of proceeding with some censorship operations requested by the decision of the Court, it would be requested to hold a national consulting meetings with different stakeholders: Internet service providers (ISPs), Tunisian Internet Authority (ATI), members of the National constituent Assembly in charge with the committee of freedom and rights and the civil society.
  • The new constitution should provide the freedom of media explicitly. Among the rights to be protected by law, we can numerate:

The right to protect the journalists’ confidential sources of information.

The protection of whistleblowers reviling corruption cases.

Journalists should choose professional bodies they work for, freely.

  • The right to access to information has to be guaranteed. [The article number 31 in the new draft of constitution includes this right.







-          ARTICLE 19 report about Tunisia.

-          The “Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies”  (CIHRS) report “Freedom of Expression in Egypt and Tunisia”

-          “Human rights first” report: “Blasphemy, Freedom of Expression, and Tunisia’s Transition to Democracy May 2013”.



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Comment by Parveen Umrani on February 10, 2014 at 10:42pm

Thank you, interesting read.



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