Tunisians concerned about freedom of expression

Ennahda submits draft law criminalising insults on sanctities

GMT 15:53 2012 Thursday ,02 August

Arab Today, arab today Ennahda submits draft law criminalising insults on sanctities

Rached Ghannouchi, founder and leader of Tunisia's ruling Ennahda
Tunis – Nabil Zaghdoud

Rached Ghannouchi, founder and leader of Tunisia's ruling Ennahda Tunis – Nabil Zaghdoud Tunisia's ruling Ennahda movement, which heads a majority as apart of a tripartite coalition in the National Constituent Assembly, submitted on Wednesday a draft law for the "criminalisation of insults against holy values."
Habib Khedr, a member of the moderate Islamist movement in the NCA,  told Arabstoday that the draft law is related to the revision and completion of certain provisions of the Tunisian Penal Code which includes a new chapter that criminalises insults to religious values or beliefs.
Khedr, the Rapporteur-General of the Constitution in the Assembly, explained: "God Almighty, and His messengers and holy Books, and Kaaba, and mosques and churches are sacred," adding: “The draft restricts the most important aspect which is the insults and verbal abuse and disrespect of God and messengers of God.”
He clarified that the draft law providesda punishment of two years imprisonment and a fine of two thousand dinars ($1300).
The Ninth General Conference of the Ennahda movement had as part of its final statement cited its commitment to ensuring the freedom of expression and creativity and the criminalisation of infringement on holy values as it was "an attack on the freedom of others".
Several Islamist parties had called for such a law to be included in the constitution.
Some observers have however lashed out at the move, saying the law would restrict the freedom of expression and creativity if ratified.
The International Federation for Human Rights also released a statement where it said it feared about the future of freedom in Tunisia, especially the freedom of creativity. It called in an earlier statement for Tunisia to respect the international conventions it had ratified, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
It also demanded the reneging the Ennahda-proposed law.
Since the Islamists took power in Tunisia after the ouster of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, hardline Muslims (belonging to the Salafi sect) have seen unprecedented freedom they did not enjoy before the revolution. Salafists have reportedly gone on violent rampages under the pretext of "supporting holy values", the last incident in June where a protest against Tunisian artists showing paintings the Salafists considered as offensive to holy values seeing the destruction of shops and the exhibition space.
The Court of Appeal in Monastir province issued on June 25 a verdict of  seven and a half years imprisonment with a fine of $700 on two young men following the publication of cartoons some considered as "offensive" to Prophet Mohammed.

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