Tunis crowds gather for anti-censorship march

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REPORTING FROM TUNIS, TUNISIA -- In the latest turn in an increasingly heated debate between Islamic conservatives and secularists in Tunisia, thousands of liberal demonstrators descended on the Tunisian capital Sunday afternoon to take part in a march for freedom of expression and against censorship.

The demonstration, dubbed ‘Aataqni’ or ‘set me free’ in Tunisian Arabic, came only two days after throngs of Islamist protesters marched through central Tunis calling for the implementation of Islamic law and the shutting down of Nessma TV. The station recently outraged Islamists by airing the animated feature film Persepolis, which includes a scene depicting God, forbidden under Islamic law.

Liberals, meanwhile, appear to be alarmed at the fervor of Islamists, with just one week until landmark elections for a constituent assembly, which will write a new constitution after the overthrew this year of President Zine al-Abedine ben Ali.

‘If we accept this kind of censorship, it could lead to censorship of other programs, such as educational ones,’ 32-year-old demonstrator Tarek Marsouguy told World Now. ‘So we have to fight for freedom of expression.’


Other marchers said they had come out to ‘defend their freedom’ and to preserve the revolution so that it continues ‘on the right path.’

About 2,000 marchers waved Tunisian flags and carried banners saying ‘freedom of expression is sacred’ and ‘I’m Tunisian and free.’

As the crowd began marching down a central Tunis street, demonstrators broke out in song and sang the national hymn. Then they switched to chanting slogans calling for a civil state and condemning censorship.

‘With my soul, my blood, I sacrifice myself for freedom,’ they shouted. Some protesters also decried hard-line religious conservatives.

Sunday’s march was calm, in contrast to Friday’s Islamist rally which -- although initially peaceful -- ended with riot police firing tear gas at the crowds as they approached the Casbah, sending demonstrators running for cover in nearby buildings.

The dispute over Nessma TV has highlighted the struggle between religious conservatives and liberals over the direction of the country. Organizers of Sunday’s demonstration wrote in a post on the march’s Facebook page that the rally was not about Nessma TV but rather for the greater cause of preserving freedoms.

‘This event does not defend Nessma TV in any way, this event defends the freedom of the individual,’ the post says. ‘We do not want a dictatorship in the name of the sacred. We do not want to go from a police dictatorship to an Islamic dictatorship.’

-- Alexandra Sandels


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Demonstrators march during an anti-censorship rally in Tunis on Sunday.

Video: Amateur footage purporting to show the anti-censorship rally in Tunis on Sunday. Credit: YouTube