Tunisian High Court to Rule on Porn Ban

Feb 13, 2012 8:00 AM PST

TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia could ban porn sites if the country’s highest court rules in favor of a complaint over Internet access to adult material.

The legislators will decide on Wednesday whether to enforce the censorship that has already been ordered twice before when the courts ordered the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) to block adult sites.

According to Al Aribiya News, experts are concerned that the new ruling could re-establish the country’s pre-revolution censorship practices.

The court's prior rulings were sparked after complaints by three lawyers who claimed that porn is “against Muslim values” and dangerous for the young.

It seems likely that the restrictions will be upheld, according to observers, forcing the ATI to again filter websites, although the ban has not been in effect since the ousting of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In fact, the ATI itself has publicly opposed censorship.

“It’s a step backwards,” said the ATI’s chief executive Moez ChakChouk, who has been trying to change his agency’s image after he was appointed following the revolution.

“Under Ben Ali, the ATI was an instrument of political control and censorship. Today we are fighting for the neutrality of the Internet, but they want to put the old cloak back on us.”

Website filtering would also would compromise the quality and speed of data transfers, the expert warned, and said his agency did not have sufficient funds to carry out the widespread censorship. 

Other critics said the court decision would have far-reaching implications.

“It is about whether we want to delegate the power to choose to the state, rather than to citizens,” media sociologist Riadh Ferjan told Al Aribiya.

“We are not in uncharted territory in this area. Tunisia has a loaded past. It was one of the most restrictive countries. It also served as a laboratory for Internet surveillance,” he added.

Ferjan maintained that Internet regulation can be achieved by other means including parental control software, education and self-regulation.

“But the debate is being conducted in an erroneous fashion. We are talking about ideology, driven by passion, and not facts. We put morals everywhere,” he said.

However, lawyer Monaem Turki, one of the new plaintiffs said that “morals and law can go together.”

“In France, Hitler apologist websites are censored. Likewise, in Tunisia, there should also be prohibitions and pornographic sites are not tolerable,” he said.

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