April 10, 2012 | By Jillian C. York

In Tunisia and Palestine, Be Careful What You Say on Facebook

Palestinian Authority Arrests Journalists for Facebook Posts

Amidst rumors of new website blocking in the West Bank, a more troubling development has emerged: The Palestinian Authority arrested two journalists and a university lecturer last month for newspaper articles and Facebook posts that authorities deemed "slanderous."

Journalist Yousef al-Shayyeb was arrested after publishing a piece on alleged corruption in the Palestinian foreign ministry.  Another journalist, Tareq Khamees, found himself detained, interrogated, and files on his laptop confiscated. Khamees merely defended the writing of lecturer Ismat Abdel-Khaleq, who called for the ousting of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, dubbing him a "traitor" and "fascist." According to a report from NBC News, government representatives claim Shayyeb "did not provide sufficient evidence for his accusations," and that all three cases "represent possible slander."

As the Committee to Protect Journalists points out, the arrests occurred concurrently with the Palestinian Authority's recent distribution of a press freedom award to American journalist Helen Thomas.

EFF condemns the Palestinian Authority's crackdown on free expression and urges them to immediately release and pardon Yousef al-Shayyeb, Tareq Khamees, and Ismat Abdel-Khaleq.

Tunisia Metes Out Harsh Punishments for "Blasphemy"

According to a report from Reuters, two young Tunisians have been arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison for posting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook. A justice ministry spokesperson stated that the two young men, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, were charged with "violation of morality and disturbing public order." Mejri is currently in jail while Beji is still being sought by police and was sentenced in absentia.

This news comes as Tunisia's fledgling democracy is still developing and tensions between secularists and religious conservatives continue to grow. Some see the arrests as an effort by conservatives to assert power and silence would-be critics. One Tunisian blogger, Nebil Zagdoud, told Reuters, "This decision is aimed at silencing freedom of expression even on the Internet. Prosecutions for offending morals are a proxy for this government to gag everyone." 

We couldn't agree more. EFF sees the arrests of Mejri and Beji as a threat to Tunisian democracy. We demand their immediate release, and call on the government to stop all future efforts to silence their citizens.

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