By Clark Boyd
Technology correspondent in Tunis
Last week's UN-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society put the spotlight on the host country Tunisia.
Mokhtar Yahyaoui was one among many making a stand
Human rights groups both inside and outside the country intensified their criticism of the Tunisian government's record regarding internet freedom.
Some Tunisian dissidents, including blogger Mokhtar Yahyaoui, even staged a hunger strike in protest.
Last Thursday, Mr Yahyaoui was in a Tunis courtyard, calmly smoking a cigarette and sipping tea.
But the scene around him was anything but calm. A crowd of well-wishers and fellow dissidents had gathered in support of Mr Yahyaoui, who was in the 30th day of a hunger strike to protest the Tunisian political and legal systems.
He accused both of corruption, and of not respecting human rights.
"I'm on a hunger strike because we don't get to express ourselves freely," he said. "I'm on a hunger strike because, in Tunisia, we've been waiting for a political opening.
"There are several like myself, and we're forbidden from leaving the country. We can't even move about freely in our country. And it's a situation we can't accept any more. "
Mr Yahyaoui, a former top-level judge, originally believed he could change the Tunisian system from the inside.
When that did not work, he turned to the internet. He posted a letter on his nephew's website, Tunezine, accusing the Tunisian government of abusing the country's judicial system.
Soon after, he decided to start his own weblog.
"In fact, we're not talking about just one blog," Mr Yahyaoui said. "We're talking about tens of blogs. Each time I do a blog, the authorities block it."
He also related how his online protests have led to real world troubles.
"For example, on the occasion of the anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights, I wrote an entry that denounced the isolation and imprisonment of political prisoners in Tunisia. And the next day when I left my house, I was roughed up. I got punched, and went to the hospital."
"On two occasions, I was abducted from my house. Once, I was taken to the headquarters of the secret police where I spent an entire day.
"Another time I was taken 15 miles away and kept in a vacant lot, so I wouldn't take part in a demonstration."
Mr Yahyaoui's case, and those of other bloggers, were a main focus of attention during last week's World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis.
Human Rights Watch issued a report condemning Tunisia for jailing individuals for expressing their opinions online.
The Paris-based group Reporters without Borders taped a large poster to the floor in one of the summit's gathering spots.
The poster, entitled The Internet's Black Holes, showed a map of the world with certain countries, including Tunisia, blacked out.
The poster highlighted countries which filter the internet
"We're just trying to denounce what's happening here," said Julien Pain of Reporters Without Borders.
"People should know that in Tunisia, the very place they're holding this summit, the internet is censored. Cyber-dissidents are tracked down and arrested.
"You can't have access to any opposition websites in Tunisia. You can't even have access to the website of Reporters Without Borders."
The poster drew an immediate response from onlookers.
"I'm Tunisian," shouted one man who would not give his name.
"Like 80% of Tunisians, I am happy with this government. This is not a dictatorship. We express ourselves as we need to, and we have everything we want here."
Outside experts contend that the Tunisian government heavily censors online content.
The OpenNet Initiative, a collaboration between the University of Toronto, Harvard University and the University of Cambridge, released a report last week detailing the extent of Tunisia's internet filtering regime.
"The Tunisians implement internet filtering using a product developed in the US called SmartFilter, the same product used by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates," said Nart Villeneuve, Director of Technical Research at The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto.
"Technically, you can bypass internet censorship fairly easily. But when it's in place, it's a reminder to the local population that there are consequences for certain types of content.
"Filtering doesn't have to be 100% effective. It just has to get the message across for people to start self-censoring."
For many Tunisian bloggers, the summit presented a challenge. If they spoke out, it could have drawn unwanted attention from the authorities. They worried that their blogs could be silenced, or worse.
But blogger and dissident Mr Yahyaoui was unapologetic for speaking out, and optimistic about the future.
He said the summit, and his hunger strike, taught Westerners a lesson.
About 100 Tunisians staged a protest over human rights last week
"Our dictatorship has succeeded in courting the West. Tunisia is an ally in the fight against terrorism, and a model of economic development.
"But is has done so without the West really understanding what the life is like, and the distress of young Tunisians.
"I feel this week we have shown this to the entire world. And I hope the world notices, and helps us to better express ourselves."
On Friday, Mr Yahyaoui said he had achieved his political aims. As the summit ended and delegates began leaving Tunisia, he and seven other dissidents ended their month-long hunger strike.
But Mr Yahyaoui vowed to begin blogging again as soon as possible.