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'No blasphemy clause' in Tunisia charter

12 October 2012, 11:00

Tunis - A controversial blasphemy clause proposed by the ruling Islamist party but opposed by civil society groups will not be included in Tunisia's new constitution, the speaker of the Assembly told AFP.

"There will certainly be no criminalisation," National Constituent Assembly speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar said.

"That is not because we have agreed to [allow] attacks on the sacred, but because the sacred is something very, very difficult to define. Its boundaries are blurred and one could interpret it in one way or another, in an exaggerated way," he added.

The plan to criminalise attacks on the sacred sparked an outcry when it was first announced by the Islamists in July, with the media and civil society groups fearing that it would result in new restrictions on freedom of expression.

Government critics have also warned of creeping Islamisation in the North African country since president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime was swept away in a revolution last year.

Jaafar said that Ennahda, the Islamist party that heads the ruling coalition, will accept dropping the blasphemy clause even though it remains at the heart of its political agenda.

Great danger

Ennahda had even wanted to see its proposed ban on attacks on the sacred become international law, but had modified its position, added Jafaar, who heads Ettakatol, a leftist party allied to the Islamists in a coalition government.

"Sometimes we hold talks within the troika [three-party ruling coalition] and we feel that they [Ennahda] are prepared to let their opinions develop, to move the lines a bit," said the speaker of Tunisia's interim parliament, which is tasked with drafting a new constitution.

Ennahda had initially wanted to see its proposal adopted in the new constitution and the penal code, threatening jail sentences for those transgressing the law.

Since violence erupted across the Arab world last month, notably in Tunis where the US embassy was attacked, after a US-made film mocking Islam was posted on the internet, Ennahda has gone further and called for international law to proscribe attacks on the sacred.

President Moncef Marzouki has since warned that radical Islamist militants pose a "great danger" to the Maghreb region.



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