A Tunisian university dean who is to face trial on Thursday for allegedly slapping a female student wearing a niqab dismissed the proceedings against him as “astonishing” and an attack on freedoms.
Speaking to AFP on the eve of the trial, Habib Kazdaghli, dean of the faculty of arts, letters and humanities at Manouba University, said the case was the latest confrontation between his faculty and Salafi Muslims.
“I appear before the first instance court of Manouba because a student lodged a complaint against me, accusing me of slapping her,” Kazdaghli said.
“It is astonishing that I have to be put on trial,” he said, insisting that he was the victim in this case.
“I am the one who lodged a complaint after two students (wearing the niqab) vandalized my office,” in March, he said.
“One of these students, Imen Berrouha, lodged the complaint against me at the same time as I was at a National Guard post reporting the damage in my office,” he added.
Manouba University, which has some 13,000 students, is considered a left-wing bastion in Tunisia and located outside the capital Tunis.
It has been rocked by protests and weeks-long sit-ins after the university banned women from wearing the niqab, full-face veils, over security concerns.
And earlier this year six students were disciplined for wearing the niqab.
Kazdaghli said that the student who lodged a complaint against him was expelled from his faculty for six month because she had refused to remove her niqab.
“This trial is not just about me, it is aimed at all those who defend academic freedoms and who promote the respect of educational rules,” Kazdaghli added.
Kazdaghli has the support of university staff and trade unionists who have spoken against the trial.
A committee that defends university values and academic freedoms issued a statement saying Kazdaghli “is not the guilty party, he is the victim of aggression.”
Tunisia’s main labor union, the Union Generale Tunisienne du Travail, and the local chapter of the Tunisian League of Human Rights are dispatching defense lawyers for Kazdaghli, who faces 15 days in jail if found guilty.