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.

Artist's Case Triggers Fears of Rollback to Free Expressioni
|| 0:00:00
X
Lisa Bryant
September 26, 2012 2:43 PM
Like other countries in the Muslim world, Tunisia was rocked by protests this month against an amateur video, made in the United States, that mocked the Prophet Muhammad. The violence shocked many in the once staunchly secular North African country. Some fear it underscores growing threats to free expression -- a cornerstone of Tunisia's 2011 revolution. Lisa Bryant reports for VOA from Tunis.

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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid