CAIRO, Egypt - A Tunisian blogger is facing a campaign of state intimidation after appearing in February at a conference at the American Enterprise Institute for Arab allies of freedom.
Since she returned to Tunis, Neila Charchour Hachicha's husband has been sentenced to prison, her house has been surveilled by the state security services, and she has become the target of a particularly dirty trick against her recently engaged daughter.
According to Ms. Hachicha, the regime's intelligence services recently distributed a doctored photograph of her daughter to make her appear to be wearing a dress without underwear. The blogger's offense was giving an interview from Washington on Al-Jazeera where she complained that there was no free speech in her native country.
The case of Ms. Hachicha is part of a larger trend among America's authoritarian allies in the Muslim world. On the eve of hosting a United Nations conference on communications technology, the authorities in Tunis closed several newspapers and blogs.
In Egypt, which receives more than $2 billion annually from America in military aid, the government has added new charges to President Mubarak's challenger in last fall's presidential elections, Ayman Nour.
And in Afghanistan, a country liberated by American and international forces from the Taliban in 2001, a 41 year old Muslim named Abdul Rahman recently was forced to flee the country after he faced a death sentence for converting to Christianity.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Ms. Hachicha said, "I would like America to support our freedom of speech. That is all we need. We can resolve our problems through local television and the newspaper. But we need Tunisians to know about it. We need freedom of speech in our country."
Ms. Hachicha, 50, is by day an interior decorator and the daughter of Mahmoud Charchour, one of the founders of Tunisia's ruling party. At night, however, she writes a web log that is often critical of the government.
In February 2004, the Tunisian authorities effectively banned access to her site www.plmonline.info, after she posted an entry quoting President Bush at his February 18, 2004 meeting with President Ben Ali.
Ms. Hachicha quoted Mr. Bush's line, "I look forward to talking to you about the need to have a press corps that is vibrant and free, as well as an open political process. There's a lot we can talk about. Tunisia can help lead the greater Middle East to reform and freedom, something that I know is necessary for peace for the long term."
That may sound benign, but according to Ms. Hachicha, this part of the story about Mr. Ben Ali's White House visit was not reported by any Tunisian newspaper or television station. "They censored me because I said the president of the United States discussed press freedoms," she said with a slight laugh.
Today, Ms. Hachicha is facing much more than internet censorship. On March 28 her husband was sentenced to 10 months in prison on the charge he sold land illegally in his real-estate business. Ms. Hachicha said the sentence was in response to her remarks on al-Jazeera and participation in the American Enterprise Institute conference.
"This did not please them, and they do this through your husband and family. It's a cheap method of getting to you," she said.
Ms. Hachicha also said her car was stolen and she suspected it was stolen by the police. The police then questioned her for four hours, under the guise that she committed a crime by defaming the police. But Ms. Hachicha believes the most insidious intimidation revolved around her daughter.
"The authorities told people not to attend our daughter's engagement party for March 3," she said. When asked how she knows this, she said some people attended the party anyway but told her about the threats.
"At the party, they took photographs of my daughter. They doctored these photographs to make it appear that she was not wearing panties. We are a conservative culture. This was meant to cause my family shame," she said.
Many of Mr. Nour's allies in Egypt were discreetly told by the ruling party to walk away from him when the state stripped him of the legal immunity he was entitled to as a member of parliament. There have also been rumors in Cairo that the state security services have audio tapes of Mr. Nour and his wife in their bedroom.
The tactics against the Hachicha family are also particularly disturbing for Tunisia, a country praised by the west for its economic reforms and its laws giving equal political rights to women. But some analysts are beginning to see President Ben Ali and his regime in a much worse light.