Tunisian cyber-dissident Zouhair Yahyaoui, winner of the first Cyber-Freedom Prize
Yahyaoui’s fiancée, Sophie Piekarec, received the 7,600 euro Prize on his behalf at a ceremony in Paris today. The Prize goes to an Internet user who, through their professional activity or principled positions, demonstrates their support for the free flow of information online.
Zouhair Yahyaoui in jail - How President Ben Ali responds to satire
In Borj el Amri prison on the outskirts of Tunis, 4 June 2003 was the first anniversary of the arrest of Zouhair Yahyaoui, 35, cyber-dissident and creator of the website TUNeZINE.
It was also the day his French fiancée, Sophie Piekarec, had wanted to spend in Tunis with Yahyaoui’s family. She flew over specially from Paris, but was turned back when she landed at Tunis airport.
What crime did Yahyaoui commit to deserve this?
A young unemployed university graduate and Internet enthusiast, Yahyaoui launched a news website from within Tunisia in July 2001. It was the only way to express oneself in this country of censorship. Using the pseudonym Ettounsi, Yahyaoui quickly began drawing lots of young visitors to TUNeZINE. His recipe was humour and sarcasm. In July 2001, TUNeZINE began reflecting the concerns of human rights defenders by being the first site to post an open letter to President Ben Ali from Judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui (Zouhair Yahyaoui’s uncle) criticising the complete lack of judicial independence in Tunisia.
Written mostly in the Tunisian vernacular, the posts of Yahyaoui and his team upset the authorities. Tunisia’s cyber-police, who are among the most effective in the world, were ordered to track them down.
He was arrested in an Internet café in a Tunis suburb on 4 June 2002 by ten plain-clothes policemen, who took him to his home and searched his room, taking his computer equipment. During interrogation by members of the Directorate for State Security (DES), an offshoot of the interior ministry, he revealed the password to his website. He was also tortured. After a summary trial, an appeal court sentenced him on 10 July 2002 to two years in prison for "spreading false news."
Yahyaoui has continued his fight from his prison cell. The only way now for him to combat the injustice of which he is a victim is hunger strikes. He has staged three of them since the beginning of 2003. They have left him weak, but he has not given up.
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