March 13 is a National day for internet freedom in Tunisia.
After the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime in 2011, the day was initiated in 2012 by then-president Moncef Marzouki in honor of cyber dissident Zouhair Yahyaoui.
Yahyaoui was an award-winning blogger and internet activist. The Tunisian online dissident launched a website called "TUNeZINE" in 2001, publishing information and articles that criticized the Ben Ali regime. His opposition to Ben Ali's rule eventually landed him in jail, where he served a total of 18 months.
“Publishing information known to be untrue," “propagation of false news,” and "non-authorized usage of an Internet connection," according to PEN America.
Facing brutal torture during his time in prison, Yahyaoui underwent several hunger strikes and was eventually released in November 2003.
He died of a heart attack at the age of 37, in March 2005.
His friends and family claim that the conditions of his imprisonment led to a catastrophic deterioration in his health and ultimately caused his untimely death.
Many in Tunisia regard Yahyaoui as a 'martyr' of freedom and see in him as a symbol of the years of struggle against a dictatorial regime.
Speaking of him to Quartz Africa, blogger and social media activist Abdelkarim Benabdallah said, Yahyaoui “was really a hero at a time when everybody was cowardly hiding.”
Internet Freedom in Tunisia
Even though the state of internet freedom has largely improved in Tunisia since Ben Ali was deposed, a 2016 Freedom House report revealed that the country is still considered 'partly free'.
This is largely due to the 2015 counter-terrorism law that was passed following deadly attacks on tourists in Tunisia. According to Human Rights Watch "the law grants security forces broad and vague monitoring and surveillance powers."