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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact 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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs