Putting Tunisian prisons on the map

GuardianThis post about The Tunisian Prison Map was written by The Guardian Unlimited on February 2, 2007:

The Tunisian Prison Map, created by Sami Ben Gharbia, is an innovative voice against human rights abuses in Tunisia, writes Preeti Jha.

The site charts 22 prisons and 4 detention centres, combining content from Google Maps with reports from different human rights groups.

If you click on the markers dotted over the map, case studies of institutions and detainees flash up. Mr Gharbia’s use of text, videos and animation evokes a tangible sense of imprisoned political dissidents.

The resulting mix is at once a dynamic artform and a thought-provoking piece of advocacy.

Through the map, Mr Gharbia aims to highlight human rights abuses in the country he was forced to flee in 1998, finding asylum in the Netherlands. “Behind the wonderful postcard of Tunisia is another card of prisons, torture, oppression and censorship”, he says.

The internet is heavily monitored in Tunisia, and websites critical of President Ben Ali’s government are often blocked. The Tunisian Prison Map itself has been censored since 2003.
According to Transparency International in 2006, Tunisia was one of the countries with a significant worsening in perceived levels of corruption.

But Gharbia hopes that the map’s use of new media and existing human rights activism will open up possibilities for more efficient advocacy.

This could be in the works. Neil Durkin, from Amnesty International, says the map is “very impressive” and mentions that the organisation is interested in doing something similar in the next few months.

Gharbia is already noticing an increase in the number of visitors to his site, with a recent surge of interest in the map. He hopes that this will translate into greater awareness of the human rights situation in Tunisia.