2019 Report on International Religious Freedom: Tunisia

Executive Summary

The constitution declares the country’s religion to be Islam. The constitution also declares the country to be a “civil state.” The constitution designates the government as the “guardian of religion” and obligates the state to disseminate the values of “moderation and tolerance.” It prohibits the use of mosques and other houses of worship to advance political agendas or objectives and guarantees freedom of belief, conscience, and exercise of religious practice. Laws require that associations and political parties respect the rule of law and basic democratic principles and prohibit them from encouraging violence, hatred, intolerance, or discrimination on the basis of religion. The law states the government oversees Islamic prayer services by subsidizing mosques, appointing imams, and paying their salaries. The government suggests themes for Friday sermons but does not regulate their content. The government may initiate administrative and legal procedures to remove imams whom authorities determine to be preaching “divisive” theology and in the period preceding the 2019 national elections, the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) declared that it would terminate employment of any imam or mosque employee who engaged in partisan politics. In September the Aleph Institute, an international Jewish organization that assists individuals in prisons, expressed concern about possible anti-Semitism in the treatment of two Jewish detainees held in the country, including Jewish citizen Ilane Racchah, who remained in pretrial detention from July 2018 to October 2019 and whose case remained pending at the end of the year. On July 5, in the immediate aftermath of two terrorist attacks in downtown Tunis, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed issued a prohibition on wearing face coverings in administrative and public institutions, in order to “maintain public security and guarantee optimal implementation of safety requirements.” Government officials denied that the restriction limited religious freedom and stressed that its goal was to promote improved security. According to Human Rights Watch, on May 19, police in Kairouan arrested and detained Imed Zaghouani, a cafe owner, after Zaghouani declined to close his cafe during Ramadan. The Ministry of Interior issued a statement in late May denying that it issued orders to close cafes or restaurants during Ramadan and explained that the ministry works to apply the constitution, including the protection of freedom of belief and conscience. In spite of continued appeals from the Baha’i community, the government did not recognize the Baha’i Faith or grant its association legal status. The Baha’i community reported that it was unable to proceed with an appeal of a 2018 court decision that denied its petition to be registered as an association, because it did not have information on the grounds for the court’s decision. Christian citizens stated the government did not fully recognize their rights, particularly as they pertain to the establishment of a legal entity or association that would grant them the ability to establish an Arabic-language church or a cemetery. Unlike the Baha’is, however, the country’s local Christian community did not submit a formal request for an association or legal status. The MRA established an Office for Religious Minorities to assist in the ministry’s efforts to coordinate with the country’s main religious minorities. The minister of religious affairs met with representatives of the Christian, Jewish, and Baha’i Faith communities. The grand mufti, grand rabbi, and Catholic archbishop attended the October 23 swearing in of President Kais Saied. (Full Report)