06/13/2018 Research product of TIMEP/ originally posted by TIMEP
- Despite protections in the Tunisian Constitution guaranteeing freedom of belief and the liberty of conscience, the Tunisian Penal Code provides for prison terms of up to six months for the crimes of “defaming public morality” and “public indecency.”
- The broad language in the penal code as well as the lack of a legal definition for public morality and the state’s role to uphold it allows police undue power in arbitrating crimes of public morality; indeed, 2017 saw a spate of cases in which individuals were convicted for eating during Ramadan or for displays of affection.
- While 2018 has not seen a similar incidence of arrest or police harassment for moral crimes, civil society has mobilized around the issue, with public demonstrations over the past year, including one in May 2018 that occurred despite the Ministry of Interior failing to approve it.
Liberty of conscience and freedom of belief are fundamental rights enshrined in the 2014 Tunisian Constitution. However, after the revolution, public morality offenses have been consistently used against those who do not conform to some of the country’s religious and cultural customs. Article 226 and 226 II of the Tunisian Penal Code relate to defaming public morality and public indecency, and provide for prison terms of up to six months for such offenses.
Even though Tunisia has long been characterized by its seemingly tolerant image, prosecutions and consistent police harassment of those who choose not to conform to the dominant religious identity of the country in the name of “public indecency” and “defaming public morals” have been a common practice after the revolution. The year 2017 signaled an unprecedented rise in arrests related to public indecency, with a series of charges against individuals eating during Ramadan, and a couple arrested in October for kissing inside a car. These incidents led civil society to react and form an advocacy network called the Collective for Individual Liberties. Also that year, Mouch Bessif (“Not Against Our Will”) was the first protest to publicly call for the basic right to abstain from fasting in Ramadan. Although 2018 has not yet seen a similar rate of arrest or police harassment, civil society has continued to organize to demand the right to eat during Ramadan. One member of parliament called for the abolition of a regulation on the closure of nearly all cafés during the month, but was rejected by the interior minister, who stated that “the minority should respect the rules of the majority.”