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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More