Following an increase in attacks against the army and security forces, the government conducted widespread anti-terrorist operations and arrested numerous suspects. Following a deadly attack on July 16 against army soldiers, the prime minister’s office created a “crisis unit” to coordinate efforts to combat terrorism. On July 19, the ministry closed two religious radio stations and one television channel it accused of spreading hate speech and advocating violence. The High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA), a constitutionally mandated audiovisual oversight authority, rejected the government’s claim that it consulted HAICA before taking the decision. On July 22, the crisis unit closed 157 associations because of alleged links with terrorism and incitement to violence. These associations were predominantly Islamic and all contested the government allegations. Human Rights Watch called these suspensions disproportionate and arbitrary.
National Guard troops arrested two Salafists suspected of breaking into a Sufi shrine in Jedaida on February 24. The case was not pursued after one of the accused was deemed to be of feeble mind and authorities learned that both live in abject poverty.
Jabeur Mejri, a self-described atheist who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in March 2012 for posting on the internet cartoons depicting a naked Prophet Muhammad, received a presidential pardon in March. He subsequently received an eight-month prison term for insulting a court clerk, for which he was also pardoned, and released from prison October 15.
The MRA announced in December it had re-asserted state control over all mosques in Tunisia and in cooperation with civil society organizations, trained imams in moderate discourse when delivering sermons. The law on political parties does not prohibit parties based on religious affiliation, but does prohibit parties from using religion to call for violence or discrimination. The prime minister’s office issued a warning to Hizb al-Tahrir (Liberation Party) on July 10 for displaying a banner with the phrase “Establishing the Caliphate and Uprooting Colonialism” during its June national congress. The office accused Hizb al-Tahrir of seeking to change the republican nature of the state and of not accepting democracy by calling for a caliphate and a boycott of elections.
The prime minister’s office stated that it prohibited imams who were running in the legislative elections from preaching during the campaign to maintain the constitutionally-mandated political neutrality of mosques. The government on more than one occasion urged imams to disseminate messages of moderation and tolerance to counter threats of violent extremism. Khamis El Mejri, a Salafist imam, was arrested on March 10 for preaching in a mosque without government permission. The arrest was part of an effort by the government to exert control on mosques and imams the government deemed “extremist.”
Nonviolent Salafists complained about police profiling and what they perceive as a general suspicion on the part of many citizens because of their dress and long beards, which they said they were wearing to emulate the Prophet Muhammad.
The government allowed the Jewish community to worship freely and paid the salary of the grand rabbi. It also provided security for synagogues and partially subsidized some restoration and maintenance costs. Government employees maintained the Jewish cemetery in Tunis. The government permitted the Jewish community to operate private religious schools and allowed Jewish children to split their academic day between public schools and private religious schools. The government-run Essouani School and the Houmt Souk Secondary School were the only schools where Jewish and Muslim students studied together. To accommodate the Jewish Sabbath, Muslim students attended Islamic education lessons on Saturdays while their Jewish classmates attended classes on religion at a Jewish school in Djerba. There was also a small private Jewish school in Tunis.
The law grants women custody of their minor children. When fathers contest cases, however, judges sometimes refused to grant mothers permission to leave the country with their children, maintaining that sharia appointed the father as the head of the family and the father must grant permission for the children’s travel. Some fathers, however, were also barred from taking their family abroad without the consent of the mother in cases of disputed custody.