The Tunisian Internet will remain unfiltered – for the time being. The Supreme Court of Tunisia today canceled the decision of a lower court, which had previously ruled in favor of filtering the Internet for pornographic content.
While today’s decision did not end the case, it sent it back to a lower court, giving an apparent vote of no confidence in the legal argumentation previously presented.
The decision was immediately hailed by free speech advocates – and by the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), the body whose action was at issue in the case, and whose head, Moez Chakchouck, has been a vehement advocate for freedom of information.
The ATI’s legal argument against the suit, however, did not hinge upon issues of civil liberties, but rather the technical ability of the agency to implement the decision.
According to a press release distributed by the ATI this afternoon, “all attempts of application of judgment led to serious degradation of service.”
Non-profits were quicker to praise the implications for free expression in Tunsia.
“For us, it’s definitely good news. It means not taking a step backwards,” said Olivia Gré, director of the Tunisia office of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In a press release, the organization called on the Tunisian court to go further and decisively reject all form of filtering on the Internet.
“Taking advantage of the current legal vacuum to switch the filtering system back on could have serious implications and pave the way for the return of censorship,” the press release stated.
According to Gré, the trial would begin from scratch, with new legal arguments to be employed in two to three months. Moez Chakchouck had described the original decision rendered by the lower court in favor of filtering as containing no reference to legal precedent – a possible explanation for why the judges’ canceled today their earlier decision.
Taking advantage of the current legal vacuum to switch the filtering system back on could have serious implications and pave the way for the return of censorship.