A proposal to adopt new restrictions related to blasphemy in the new Tunisian constitution is likely to be dropped according to a senior government official, who said that the law will be debated by the committee responsible for drafting the constitution next month.
In an interview with AFP, National Constituent Assembly speaker, Mustapha Ben Jaafer, 72 said that after the three ruling parties had discussed the law, they had decided to drop the new restrictions.
He said that the Islamist party which leads the coalition, Ennahda had changed its earlier position and agreed to drop the blasphemy clause despite it being at the heart of its political agenda.
"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 Jaafar, who heads Ettakatol, a leftist party in the coalition.
The consensus to drop the law came in the wake of comments by the President, Moncef Marzouki, who warned that Islamist militants represent a “great danger” to countries in the region following uprisings and violent attacks over an anti-Islamic film posted on the internet.
Opponents to the press law had complained about the wording of the law, which criminalised “attacks on the sacred,” and had argued that the phrase could be abused by the authorities should they decide to limit freedom of expression.
"There will certainly be no criminalisation," Jaafar, the 72-year-old speaker of the National Constituent Assembly, said in the interview.
"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.
Jaafar argued that freedom of expression should be protected as establishing it as a right had been one of the major achievements of the revolution last year.
"There is a fundamental achievement of the revolution that should never be called into question, and that no one should be able to challenge, which is the freedom of expression and of the press," he said.
International organisations express concern
Reporters Without Borders cautiously welcomed Jaafar's pledge: "We are relieved that, for the time being, this grave threat is being kept out of the constitution...using blasphemy legislation to restrict freedom of expression is unacceptable."
UN rights envoy, Margaret Sekaggya, had also urged the government to prevent the criminalisation of “attacks on the sacred,” warning that the phrase could lead to arbritrary interpretation.
The Tunisian Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali earlier this month promised to deal with issues related to press freedom after the International Federation of Journalists expressed concerns about tensions between the government and the media in Tunisia.
A number of journalists recently participated in a hunger strike, which ended last week, in an effort to oppose the appointment of a close ally of the ruling Ennahda party, Lofti Touati as director of the Dar Essabah newspaper.
DCMF has recently published a special report on the media in Tunisia and the impact of the recent revolution on the profession, in which the tense relationship between government authorities and the media in general in highlighted.
Source: DCMF, AFP