Tunisia: Draft law criminalising offending religious values is repressive and vague
16 Aug 2012
ARTICLE 19 is alarmed by a Draft Law currently under consideration by the Constituent Assembly that makes it a criminal offence to offend religious values through words, images or acts. The Draft law violates international human rights standards and imposes illegitimate and excessive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.
“If adopted, the Draft Law will represent a serious setback to the democratic transition in Tunisia. It will be a huge blow to Tunisians, who suffered enormously from censorship and restrictions on their freedom of speech under Ben Ali’s regime,” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. “We urge the Tunisian Parliament to reject it and to respect, protect and fulfil hard-fought freedoms for all Tunisians.”
The leading Islamist Ennahdha Group introduced the Draft Law in the Tunisian Constituent Assembly on 1 August 2012, partly in response to the art exhibition, Printemps des Art, near Tunis that some found offensive to Islam.
In an analysis published today, ARTICLE 19 finds that the Draft Law is in violation of international standards on freedom of expression.
- The Draft law violates international human rights standards which do not protect ‘sacred values’ and belief systems from criticism
- The Draft law runs contrary to the growing global consensus among states and UN human rights bodies according to which prohibitions of defamation of religions and protection of symbols and beliefs deeply counterproductive
- Its definition of "sacred" is discriminatory since it focuses heavily on a single religious belief (Islam). While Islam is the majority religion in Tunis, it is not the only one: Christians, Jews and Bahá’í live alongside the Islamic majority who also includes different religious schools. The draft law discriminates against religious minorities’, dissenters’ and atheists’ rights to freedom of expression
- The draft law is written in vague terms leaving the provisions open to extensive and overly broad interpretations. In particular, the draft law leaves far too much discretion to the police and judiciary to decide what behaviour constitutes an ‘insult’ or ‘mockery’ of sacred values
- The Draft law is likely to lead to self-censorship under fear of imprisonment.
“This Draft Law will threaten the protection of all human rights and sends entirely the wrong message to activists and human rights defenders around the world; people who have worked tirelessly to expose the challenges posed by laws prohibiting blasphemy or the defamation of religions,” added Callamard.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Tunisian Constituent Assembly to reject the Draft Law and to embrace, rather than undermine, freedoms in post-revolution Tunis. We urge the Constituent Assembly to continue the review of domestic legislation on freedom of expression and to make all laws compliant with international standards.
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