“At a time when we are looking to the Tunisian government to set an example by enshrining full respect for human rights in the country’s new constitution, it is disturbing to see this trial continuing,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program.
“Prosecuting and convicting people on the basis of the peaceful expression of their views, even if some might find them offensive, is totally unacceptable and not what we would expect from the new Tunisia," she said. "It’s reminiscent of the violations of the ousted Ben Ali government and must stop.”
Today in Tunisia, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party leads a coalition government with two secularist parties and dominates a national assembly that is tasked with writing the new constitution.
Debate has focused on whether that constitution should invoke the Islamic sharia, or “way” – roughly, the commandments and moral sense of the Quran.
Last month thousands of mainly conservative salafi Muslims marched in Tunis to demand sharia and denounce, in the words of one placard, “secularist dogs.”
The next day, Ennahda pledged to keep the first article of the current constitution, which cites Islam as Tunisia’s religion without referring to sharia. "Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign state. Its religion is Islam, its language is Arabic and its type of government is the Republic," reads a translation provided by the University of Richmond in Virginia.
Secularist parties have welcomed the move.