Human Rights Watch has just pilloried the Tunisian government for reintroducing rights and liberties repressive laws. Two draft laws in the pipeline actually threaten to move Tunisia backwards after the decades of progress which placed it in the avant-garde of Arab countries in matters of liberties.
One of the two texts pertains to blasphemy and desecration of the symbols of religion.
It provides for imprisonment sentences for individuals found guilty of mocking or insulting the sanctity of religion. Tabled by the MPs of the Islamist party Ennahda, the text aims at preventing acts of desecration, whether moral or physical, of religious shrines and symbols, according to the arguments put forward by the ruling party.
Some human rights activists charge Islamist extremists of making use of these acts, which multiplied after the collapse of Ben Ali’s regime, to exact additional, tougher restrictions on freedom of expression.
Such a law might stigmatize artists, creators, journalists and human rights activists who would be at the mercy of a freedom-annihilating text.
This law is contrary to the UN covenant on civil and political rights, ratified by Tunisia, Human Rights Watch said. For HRW the proposal for blasphemy laws risks becoming a Trojan horse that will reintroduce censorship, subvert freedom of expression and clamp down on opponents under the veil of respect for religion. Tunisian legislators should rather work to abolish the laws which are still used to muzzle the freedom of expression, than adopt new repressive ones.
The UN Human Rights Council’s adopted, in March 2011, a resolution agreed by consensus, that dropped any notion of defamation of religion as a permissible limitation to free expression, the NGO recalled.
The second text, sponsored by the Ennahda-dominated government, would, if adopted, allow for continued arbitrary infringement of judicial independence, HRW warned.
HRW urged Tunisia’s elected National Constituent Assembly (NCA) to urgently address flaws in the draft law.
The bill would set up a Temporary Judicial Council to supervise the appointment, promotion, and dismissal of judges. As it stands, the measure would leave open the possibility of arbitrary dismissal or transfer of judges, HRW said.
As regards the status of women, the adoption on August 4 of a draft article of the future constitution which consecrates gender “complementarity and not equality” was denounced by Tunisian Women and Human rights associations.