Journalists and activists face violence and arrest in the uprising that began on December 17 [AFP]
Tunisian authorities have rounded up bloggers, activists and a rap singer in a string of arrests that come in the midst of what is being described as a nationwide uprising.
Two web activists, Slim Amamou and Azyz Amamy, have not been heard from since Thursday, sources in Tunisia told Al Jazeera.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that it had been alerted that at least six bloggers and activists had been arrested or had disappeared in locations across Tunisia, and that there were probably others who had been targeted.
Al Jazeera spoke with Amamy on Wednesday evening, local time, after his email and Facebook accounts were hijacked in an alleged government-led “phishing” campaign. His last tweet was published on Thursday morning, as was Amamou’s.
Amamy’s phone was disconnected on Friday night when Al Jazeera tried to reach him.
Hamadi Kaloutcha was arrested at 6am local time by police dressed in civilian clothing. His laptop and hard drive were also taken, according to RSF. The police officers told his wife that they had “a few questions to ask him” and that it would take a few hours.
Another cyberdissident, Sleh Edine Kchouk, linked to the Tunisian General Students’ Union (UGET) was taken in for questioning in the town Bizerte and had his computer confiscated.
As of Friday evening, he had not been released, sources confirmed.
The arrests come in the context of a “cyberwar” between the Tunisian authorities and web activists, who have been struggling to break through the country’s extensive censorship wall.
International web activists from Anonymous have launched “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attacks on government-linked websites during the past week.
Local journalists are facing violence and arrest as they try to cover the “unprecedented” protests that began on December 17.
“We are asking for the release of all those who are in jail for just telling the story of what is going on in their country,” Jean-Francois Julliard, the head of RSF, said.
“And we are asking above all for journalists to have access to what is going on in the country at the moment.”
Julliard said it was unacceptable that the Tunisian authorities have refused to allow a correspondent from the newspaper Le Monde into the country.
“We are worried, worried because we feel that there is a toughening of the situation,” Julliard said.
“President [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali … only wants to muffle this discontent as soon as possible, he wants his country to go back to this image of a tourist paradise, the beaches, security, peace and so on, so I think he’s ready to do anything.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was “disturbed” by the Tunisian government’s attempts to censor coverage of the protests, citing violence against journalists, newspapers being pulled from shelves and the blocking of websites.
“We are also alarmed by the shrill government-orchestrated campaign against Al Jazeera,” the CPJ said in an open letter to Ben Ali.
“We call on your government to present its views on the air, as it has been invited to do by media outlets on countless occasions, instead of attacking news organisations for simply performing their duties.”
Rap singer arrested
Tunisian police have arrested a rap singer who made a song critical of government policies as protests against President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s rule continue to shake the North African nation, his brother said on Friday.
Video that led to The General’s arrest
Hamada Ben-Amor, a 22-year-old rapper, was taken from his home in the Mediterranean Sea coast city of Sfax late on Thursday, his brother Hamdi Ben-Amor said.
“Some 30 plainclothes policemen came to our house to arrest Hamada and took him away without ever telling us where to. When we asked why they were arresting him, they said ‘he knows why’,” he said.
Ben-Amor is known to fans as “The General”.
Last week he released a song on the internet titled ‘President, your people are dying’ that talks about the problems of the youth and unemployment.
The song came out as students, professionals and youths mounted a series of protests over a shortage of jobs and restrictions on public freedoms.
The protests have grown into the most widespread and violent flare-up of dissent of Ben Ali’s 23-year rule.
Tunisian officials had no immediate comment on any of the arrests.