US concerned at Tunisia unrest, internet woes

The United States raised concerns with Tunisia about its handling of political unrest as well as its apparent “interference” with the internet, senior US officials said on Friday.

State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley told reporters that the State Department on Thursday summoned the Tunisian ambassador in Washington, Mohamed Salah Tekaya, to air these points.

He said the State Department told the ambassador of its “concerns about the ability of the people of Tunisia to exercise their rights and freedom of expression and freedom of assembly”.

“We are concerned about demonstrations that have occurred over the past few weeks in Tunisia, which we understand to be the result of social and economic unrest,” said in a written statement late on Friday.

“We encourage all parties to show restraint as citizens exercise their right of public assembly,” he added.

There has been a wave of protest not only in Tunisia but also in neighbouring Algeria over unemployment and other issues.

Crowley said Washington was also concerned about how the Tunis government deals with the internet as well as attacks on government websites carried out by activists.

“We urge everyone from the government to activists to respect freedom of expression and information. That is a right of everyone,” Crowley said.

A senior State Department official told reporters on the condition of anonymity that Washington “raised the issue of what looks like Tunisian government interference with the internet, most noticeably Facebook accounts”.

“We’re quite concerned about this and we are looking at the most effective way to respond and to get the result we want,” the official said.

Hacking into Facebook
The issue was brought to US government attention by Facebook itself, another senior US official said on the condition of anonymity.

“We’ve received some information from Facebook that helped us understand what was happening,” he said.

“This is a case of hacking into private accounts, stealing passwords and being able to effectively curb an individual’s access to social media,” the official said.

An internet activist group has accused Tunis of an “outrageous level of censorship, not only blocking the websites of dissident bloggers but also sites like Flickr and any website or news source mentioning WikiLeaks”.

“Anonymous,” an Internet activist group which recently attacked sites and services it deemed opposed to WikiLeaks, has also managed to shut down the Tunisian government’s official website, the national stock exchange site, and other sites.

US officials were more cautious about events in Algeria where riots broke out over unemployment, high food prices and what one official called “an acute housing shortage which have not been well managed by the government”.

“It’s frankly too soon to tell exactly what is happening there,” in Algeria, the official said on the condition of anonymity. “We’re also looking there about what’s the most effective and immediate thing to say and do.”

Crowley echoed those concerns.

“We continue to monitor the situation,” he said. “We continue to review this and both engage the government in Algeria, as well as look after the safety of our own citizens.” – Sapa-AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Lachlan Carmichael
Lachlan Carmichael works from Brussels, Belgium. AFP correspondent in Brussels. Formerly Paris, Washington, London, Cairo, Dubai, Nicosia, Hong Kong. My tweets are my own. RT aren't endorsements. Lachlan Carmichael has over 1069 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

The pandemic has shifted patterns of conflict in Africa

Although the overall rate of conflict has remained steady in Africa during the past 10 weeks of the pandemic, the nature of this is changing in subtle but significant ways

Spain did it, so why can’t South Africa nationalise healthcare to save lives?

South Africa is working towards establishing a publicly-funded universal health service and now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, is the time to implement it

Flight to to evacuate South Africans in Wuhan finally underway

A long-delayed flight to repatriate South African citizens from Wuhan will depart tonight and return on Friday the 13th, before a 21-day quarantine

A new continental free trade agreement is here: But what about the regional economic communities?

The agreement could go beyond economics towards the political unification of Africa

Coronavirus: South Africa will evacuate citizens from Wuhan

The government is expected to evacuate citizens from Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak originated

My hardest story: Reporting on being queer in Tunisia

Reporting on queer issues is always tough. But Tunisia was something else

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Fees free fall, independent schools close

Parents have lost their jobs or had salaries cut; without state help the schools just can’t survive

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday