Washington, D.C. (August 16, 2012) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Islamist party Ennahda introduced a new bill on August 1 that would warrant imprisonment for insulting Islam, thus threatening religious freedom and free speech in Tunisia.
On August 1, the ruling Islamist party Ennahda proposed a law in the National Constituent Assembly that criminalizes “insults, profanity, derision, and representation of Allah and Mohammed,” Agence France-Presse reported. Habib Khedher, a member of Ennahda and the Constituent Assembly, told Shems FM that violators of the law could receive a prison sentence of up to two years, or four years for repeat offenses. Similar restrictive laws were recently proposed in Kuwait and have existed for decades in Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. They are, however, new to Tunisia, a country that was considered the Arab world’s most secular nation prior to the uprising that overthrew President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali in January 2011.
The bill follows the prison sentence of two young men for publishing caricatures of Mohammad on Facebook and the conviction of Nabil Karoui, the owner of Tunisian channel Nessma TV, for airing the animated film Persepolis which features a cartoon depiction of God. Karoui described his trial as the “death of freedom of expression [in Tunisia].”
The Ennahda party appears to be succumbing to the rising influence of Salafis, who follow the radical Wahhabi interpretation of Islam found in Saudi Arabia and are demanding the establishment of a strictly Islamic state.
Tunisia is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which condemns blasphemy laws and guarantees the freedom of religion and of expression.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Bans against blasphemy are increasingly being enforced and expanded not just in Tunisia, but across the Middle East, to crush the fundamental freedoms of religion and expression. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ that toppled oppressive dictators throughout the Muslim world is now giving rise to another form of tyranny – Islamist-dominated governments that criminalize blasphemy to silence dissidents and stifle freedom of speech and worship. These laws will embolden radical Muslims to commit violent acts against perceived blasphemers which, inevitably, will primarily target the Christian community and non-Sunni Muslim minorities whose beliefs are deemed unorthodox. We urge Tunisia’s ruling Ennahda party to abandon a bill that will constitute a breach of the country’s international human rights obligations.”