Neatly filling the hole left when Superman hung up his cape and put something on over his underpants, the group is targeting the country over its censorship and lack of press freedom. Recent riots, it says, have remained largely unreported.
On December 17, Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian university graduate set himself on fire after being unable to find work, sparking massive riots. Ben Ali immediately implemented a near-total news blackout, claiming the media was part of a conspiracy to destabilise the country.
“The media blackout is so severe that in the first days of the riots, one Tunisian resident remarked incredulously on Twitter that everyone was lying about the riots, because he had seen nothing of them on TV or in the newspapers,” says Rasha Moumneh, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
This hasn’t been difficul to to achieve, as the government owns or controls practically all media outlets. And as activists have increasingly taken to Facebook and Twitter to document events, the government’s cracked down on those too.
“The Tunisian government led by President Ben Ali has shown 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,” says Anonymous in an open letter to the media.
“In a show of blatant disregard for the guaranteed right of free speech, over the past 24 hours Tunisian government officials have hacked email and Facebook accounts of anyone who has taken actions labelled as ‘activism’.”
This, says Anonymous, can be as innocent as commenting on a discussion board for a Wikileaks related group.
Anonymous’ DDoS attacks appear to have brought down half a dozen websites, including commerce.gov.tn, tunisia.gov.tn and www.ministeres.tn. The group even managed to post an open letter to the government on Ben Ali’s website, pm.gov.tn, for a while.
“Like a fistful of sand in the palm of your grip, the more you squeeze your citizens the more they will flow right out of your hand. The more you censor your own citizens the more they shall know about you and what you are doing,” it reads.
It finishes: “We are Anonymous. We are the angry avatar of free speech. We are the immune system of democracy. We do not forgive censorship. We do not forget free speech. Expect us – always.”
Graham Cluley of security form Sophos says the attacks were planned yesterday on an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) forum.
But, he says, “Anyone considering signing up to join in the attacks on the websites of various governments (we recently saw Zimbabwe similarly targeted) would be wise to remember that participating in a DDoS attack is against the law.”