News / Africa

Post-Revolution Tunisia Fears Loss of Freedom

In this January 24, 2011 picture, protestors burn a photo of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali during a demonstration against holdovers from Ben Ali's regime in the interim government in Tunis, Tunisia.
In this January 24, 2011 picture, protestors burn a photo of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali during a demonstration against holdovers from Ben Ali's regime in the interim government in Tunis, Tunisia.
Lisa Bryant
In post-revolution Tunisia, some fear that free expression is again under threat after violent protests this month against an Internet video mocking the Prophet Muhammad shocked many in the North African country. Tunisians worry the violence underscores growing threats to a cornerstone of the country's  2011 revolution.

Artist Nadia Jelassi got into trouble over three veiled women…or at least her depiction of them - busts covered in fabric and newspaper and surrounded by stones. One of them is still missing, after protesters attacked an art exhibition outside Tunis on grounds it offended Islam.

Jelassi wanted viewers to interpret her art as they liked. But she says the most obvious interpretation is of women being stoned.

Religious extremists have since launched a vitriolic campaign against Jelassi and other artists in the exhibition. She says some received death threats. Salafists have posted the names and phone numbers of targeted artists on social media sites.


Tunisia's judiciary has also waded into the controversy. Jelassi and another artist are accused of disturbing public order - a charge that can carry a prison term.

Jelassi is hardly the only creator under fire in this North African country. Protesters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tunis this month, enraged by a privately-made video produced in the U.S. denigrating the Prophet Muhammad. Police thwarted another protest last week against French cartoons also mocking the Muslim prophet. Other controversial films aired here have also been attacked.

Today, rights activists like Mokhtar Trifi fear the ruling Islamist party Ennahda may capitalize on the anger to pass a blasphemy law. Draft legislation aims to criminalize offenses against so-called "sacred values."

Trifi says Ennahda wants to portray itself as the defender or Islam. With elections expected next year, he says, its aims are political.

More broadly, activists say, free expression - a cornerstone of Tunisia's revolution - is under threat. Some media groups are protesting government-appointed bosses who run key media outlets. At publishing house Dar Assabeh, journalists like Sana Farhat have staged a month-long sit-in.

"The objective of this nomination [of the boss] is to change the editorial line of Dar Assabeh," explained Farhat. "We are defending our independence and our liberty and our freedom of press, of expression."

The government rejects accusations that it is trying to stifle free expression.

But at Ennahda's headquarters, party leader Rachid Ghannouchi says Tunisia must also strike a balance.

Ghannouchi says Ennahda supports free expression and artistic creation. But Tunisians can only live in peace if they also respect each others' beliefs.

Ghannouchi says many artistic works critical of Islam are not attacked, because they are produced by serious academics. He says Jelassi's work is a deliberate provocation.

Jelassi is waiting for the day she is out of the public spotlight and free to concentrate on her art. But in this politically-charged country, that doesn't seem likely anytime soon.

You May Like

Asian Stocks Plunge on Weak Factory Activity

Official survey finds China’s manufacturing sector contracted at its fastest pace in three years More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs