Tunisian media is reporting that the ruling Ennahda party has proposed a bill banning “blasphemy.” According to a Tunisia Live report:
The ruling moderate, Islamist party Ennahda proposed a new bill that would ban blasphemy in Tunisia, yesterday August 1. In an interview with Shems FM, Habib Khedher, a member of Ennahda and the Constituent Assembly, stated that violators of the law could be sentenced to up to two years in jail, while repeat offenders could be sentenced to as many as four years in prison. According to a report by the Associated Press, the new law is proposed by Ennahda, and would make ‘insults, profanity, derision, and representation of Allah and Mohammed,’ illegal. The article also stated that the subjects which would be considered sacred under the new law would incorporate elements from all three of the Abrahamic religions, including God and the Prophet Mohammed, holy books, mosques, churches and synagogues. The proposal follows several recent incidents in Tunisia that saw citizens indicted for actions that were considered blasphemous. Two men who published books criticizing Islam and containing caricatures of the Prophet were sentenced to seven and a half years in prison during the well-publicized Mahdia case in April. This came in the same month as the Persepolis trial, where the director of a Tunisian broadcast company, which showed the controversial Iranian film, was accused of ‘blasphemy’ and ‘disrupting the public order.’ However, the charges of blasphemy in both the Mahdia and Persopolis cases were based on a law, Article 121 from the Tunisian Penal Code, that originated in the Ben Ali era, and prohibited exposing the public to things ‘likely to harm public order and morality.’ The ‘morality’ clause in Article 121 was interpreted in the recent cases as a condemnation of blasphemy. However, Article 121 could be very broadly interpreted, and did not specifically mention sacrilege or blasphemy as causes for prosecution. Amna Guellali, the Director of the Human Right Watch (HRW) office in Tunisia, asserted that while the new bill is more specific than Article 121, it represents a ‘step back for freedom of expression in Tunisia.’ According to Guellali, despite the fact that the bill lists specific sacred subjects, it also included terms like ‘the sanctity of religion and of sacred values,’ which are vague enough that the law could still be broadly interpreted.
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Ennahda is headed by Rachid Ghannouchi (many spelling variations) who can best be described as an independent Islamist power center who is tied to the global Muslim Brotherhood though his membership in the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) and his important position in the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), both organizations led by Global Muslim Brotherhood Youssef Qaradawi. An Egyptian news report has identified Ghannouchi as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood “abroad.” Ghannouchi is also one of the founding members of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a Saudi organization closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and dedicated to the propagation of “Wahabist” Islam throughout the world. Ghannouchi is known for his thinking on the issue of Islam and citizenship rights. Earlier posts reported on the return of Mr. Ghannouchi to Tunisia following his long exile in the UK. Other posts have detailed his extremist background.