Tunisia new constitution bans accusations of apostasy and incitement to violence

Majority of deputies against accusations of apostasy

TUNIS - Tunisia National Constituent Assembly approved on Sunday an amendment to article 6 of the draft constitution banning "accusations of apostasy and incitement to violence."
The amendment has been voted in reaction to the controversy sparked by a statement of Ennahda MP Habib Ellouze who had declared on Saturday to a private radio station that opposition assembly member Mongi Rahoui was seen as “an enemy of Islam.”
The death threats claim came a day after the NCA adopted articles making Islam the state religion but guaranteeing freedom of conscience.
Such words are not taken lightly in Tunisia, where the suspected assassination by militant Salafist Muslims last year of two opposition politicians plunged the country into a political crisis that has still not been resolved.
The interior ministry said threats against Rahoui and two other people had been made on Facebook and that it was taking steps to protect them.
"The ministry has taken all security precautions to ensure the security of the parties and opened an investigation to determine the seriousness of the threats," a statement said.
Ellouze said his words had been misinterpreted and apologised to Rahoui.
A number of secular opposition deputies angrily protested that such words could spell the same fate for Rahoui as befell Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi last year.
Ennahda's detractors accused the Islamist party of failing to rein in the Salafist militants.
Following the exchange between Rahoui and Ellouze, deputies demanded a revote on the apostasy amendment, which was rejected Saturday.
After being suspended twice, deliberations resumed late afternoon, a new vote was taken and the amendment was approved by 131 of 182 people voting.
But its adoption drew fire from a civil rights group, which argued that it was an attack on free speech and opened the door to other such measures.
"Tunisian deputies, from the Islamist camp to the democratic camp, voted today against freedom of speech," argued Amira Yahyaoui, president of Al-Bawsala, a group that monitors issues of political transparency.
Elected in October 2011, the NCA had been due to have drafted and adopted the text within one year.
But its work was delayed by deep divisions between Ennahda and the opposition, aggravated by a rise in Islamist attacks and sometimes violent social unrest.
Voting on the constitution comes amid concerns that a January 14 deadline for its adoption may not be met because of repeated disruptions.
It was on January 14, 2011, that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family fled the country for exile in Saudi Arabia.
To be adopted, the constitution will need approval by two-thirds of the assembly's 217 members. Otherwise, it will have to be put to a referendum.
Prime Minister Ali Larayedh has agreed to resign, handing power to a transitional premier, Mohamed Jomaa, but insists that the constitution and an electoral law be in place first to pave the way for elections.
The powerful UGTT trade union, which has been mediating in the crisis, is insisting that Larayedh step down by Thursday at the latest.
Its officials are scheduled to meet both Larayedh and Jomaa on Monday.