Tunisia: End prosecution of Emna Chargui, and investigate alarming death and rape threats

The Tunisian authorities must halt the prosecution of Emna Chargui for sharing a satirical social media post that some people considered offensive to Islam on her Facebook page and drop all charges against her, Amnesty International said today ahead of her trial set for 28 May.

Since her Facebook post, Emna has received messages from people threatening to kill or rape her, yet the authorities have failed to take action to protect her or to investigate these threats.

“The prosecution of Emna is yet another illustration of how, despite Tunisia's democratic progress, the authorities continue to use repressive law to undermine freedom of expression,” said Amna Guellali, Deputy Director for North Africa at Amnesty International.

“It is unacceptable for someone to face a prison sentence of up to three years just for sharing a satirical post on Facebook. Such a trial sends a message that anyone who dares to express a controversial view on social media runs the risk of being punished.

“We are calling on the authorities to immediately end her prosecution, investigate the worrying death and rape threats she has been receiving, and ensure she is protected.”

Background

On 2 May, Emna Chargui, 27, shared a photo on Facebook containing a satirical text that imitates the format of a Quranic verse about the COVID-19 pandemic. The post, which mentions that the virus came from China and tells people to wash their hands, has stirred a strong reaction from people on social media who found it offensive and called for her punishment.

On 4 May, Emna was summoned by judicial police who questioned her the next day in the presence of her lawyer. On 6 May, she appeared in court before the prosecution who did not allow her lawyer to accompany her. Without introduction or knowing who the prosecutor was, a panel of seven individuals interrogated her for half an hour, including questions related to her faith. One panelist even asked her if she had consulted a psychotherapist, suggesting that she might be mentally disturbed.

On 6 May, the prosecutor of the Tunis Court of First Instance charged her with “inciting hatred between religions through hostile means or violence” and "offending authorized religions" under Articles 52 and 53 of the Tunisian Press Code. These charges are punishable by a sentence of up to three years imprisonment and fine up to 2,000 Tunisian Dinars (between approximately 345 and 1,035 USD).

The Tunisian authorities have also prosecuted others since 2011 for writings considered as offensive to Islam. For example, two bloggers, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji were prosecuted and sentenced on 28 March 2012 to seven years in prison for satirical publications mocking the Prophet Mohamed. The sentence was upheld on appeal. On November 6 2019, a prosecutor of the counterterrorism unit of the first instance court in Tunis charged Mounir Baatour, a lawyer and LGBT activist, on several counts including Article 52 of the Press Code, for a post he shared on his Facebook page deemed offensive to Islam. He fled to France after receiving death threats.

“The right to freedom of expression extends to expression which some might consider shocking or offensive. The Tunisian government must amend its laws so they are compliant with human rights and stop prosecuting people for their peaceful expression,” said Amna Guellali.