ATTALAKI: Working towards religious freedom in Tunisia

Attalaki

On Friday, January 29, 2021, ATTALAKI Association for Freedom and Equality organized a press conference at the headquarters of the National Syndicate of Journalists in Tunis to announce the official publication of its annual report on religious freedom in Tunisia for the year 2020.

This report was written by the Commission for Religious Freedom of the association (composed of university professors of Constitutional Law, Public Law, and sociologists). This report is considered to be the first in Tunisia in terms of form and content which addresses the issues of religious minorities with great precision, and which warns the public opinion on the current situation of these vulnerable groups.

Although it has been 10 years since the popular revolution of January 14, 2011, the issues of diversity and pluralism in the Tunisian society have not been resolved, in addition to the rise of hate speech and the number of recorded cases of violence and violation of the rights of Tunisian citizens based on their beliefs.

ATTALAKI NGO continues the collaboration with the Tunisian State and international organizations to emphasize the importance of religious diversity in Tunisia and the dialogue that must take place to make diversity and pluralism a cause of wealth for Tunisian society.

In this context, the Minister of Religious Affairs, Mr. Ahmed Adhoum, welcomed the president of the association to discuss the situation of religious minorities in Tunisia and the role of the ministry in this area with the presence of officials from the ministry among which Mr. Abdeslam Atoui, president of the General Faculty for Religious Affairs.

The minister emphasized his readiness to partake in problem resolution of religious minorities and especially the Christians.

Tunisia: Islam and other religions

Islam is considered the religion that incorporates the majority in Tunisia with 97% of the population, most of which adheres to the thought of Maliki-Ash’ari with the presence of other Islamic sects like the Shiites. , Ibadism, Hanafi, Hanbali, Ahmadiyya, and Sufis, without forgetting radical Islamic movements such as jihadism with its different streams of theological thought.

As for the other religions, there are 1,500 Jews from Tunisia, most of whom live on the island of Djerba, Tunis, and the coastal regions (including Sousse). About 5,000 Tunisian Christians are spread throughout Tunisia, the majority of whom are under the obligation to practice their ceremonies (prayer gatherings) in homes (home churches) and this is due to the absence of churches especially in the internal regions of the country (this problem affects the Tunisian Protestant community which represents the overwhelming majority of Tunisian Christians).

There are also 30,000 foreign Christians residing in Tunisia (the majority of who belong to the Roman Catholic Church) in addition to a hundred adherents of the Bahai faith. This community is in search of recognition and their right to organize legally for years (in the associative framework to enhance their culture) without disregarding the presence of a large number of atheists and non-believers, their number is estimated at thousands, and the majority of them are young.

It should be noted that these statistics concerning religious minorities are not based on any official study carried out by the Tunisian State, only on the annual reports of international bodies. This “religious mapping in Tunisia” in terms of numbers is progressively changing.

However, despite their claims of freedom and equality, they only allow Muslim citizens to run for the presidency and other government and military positions. It clearly states in Article 74 that a person’s religion must be Islam to be president: “Every male and female voter who holds Tunisian nationality since birth, whose religion is Islam shall have the right to stand for election to the position of President of the Republic.”

Religious minorities always oppressed

Religious minorities in Tunisia are also being subjected to different forms of oppression, that is why a lot of Christians in Tunisia often hide their religious identity to avoid being discriminated against. A report also claims that some citizens are being excluded from basic citizenship right because of their religion even though the country’s constitution states that every citizen is subjected to all the constitutional rights, regardless of their religious identity.

In addition to the report, the state often disregards the safety and freedom of religious minorities like Christians, Jews, Baha’is, and others, as these groups are often subjected to discrimination.

As an example of these oppressions, a Christian family in Southern Tunisia was harassed last March, and a family member was dragged by her hair as she was being tortured repeatedly by her neighbors. They were also called hateful names by the neighbors.

The family went on to file a report against their neighbors who attacked them, but the police officials did not entertain them until they submitted a medical charge. After being harassed, the police officials only questioned them regarding their religious identity and didn’t care much about the attack.

Thankfully, the Attalaki Association is currently helping the family with their case and appointed a lawyer for them. There have been numerous reports of attacks and oppression on Christians in Tunisia like the Christian girl who was arrested for wearing a cross necklace, a Christian pastor who was threatened on Facebook, and a woman who was beaten by her brother for not having the same religion (Islam) as his.

Also, religious minorities and especially Christians are discriminated against in their natural right of burial. The following example illustrates the manifestation of this discrimination.

A foreigner married to a Tunisian woman. The wife gives premature birth to a male child in a public hospital in the capital, unfortunately, the infant died, and the body was removed from the hospital and transferred to the al-Jalaz cemetery for burial.

It is forbidden for the father to obtain a permit to bury his son there because he is a foreigner and non-Muslim and it is not permissible to bury him in a Muslim cemetery. This case is not the first in Tunisia.

Attalaki: What we have done so far

In the past few years, Attalaki Association recorded many similar cases that struggled in the burial process, mainly for social and religious reasons, although decent burial that preserves the dignity and inviolability of a person is a universal human right that cannot be negotiated.

On the other hand, the association has worked actively for years to push towards granting religious minorities, especially Christian and Baha’i, licenses to build cemeteries that take into account the religious and cultural specificities of both religions, and since this suffering is not limited to Tunisian citizens, but even foreigners residing in Tunisia, especially those who are thrown by the sea waves on our shores and do not find a decent place to be buried in. Several municipalities in the governorate of Gabes refused to bury a large group of irregular migrants because they are not Muslims and cannot be buried in Muslim cemeteries.

ATTALAKI works closely with these national and international partners to strengthen the notion of citizenship in the Tunisian reality through the acceptance of diversity and pluralism and through the follow-up that takes place with the members of the different religious communities in Tunisia, the sensitization of society to the issue of diversity and the rejection of hate speech, training sessions, and conferences that are held to address different topics with different types of participants, such as religious leaders, politicians, representatives of national organizations, etc…

ATTALAKI also works with the United Nations agencies in Tunisia and Geneva to raise the agencies of the international community to the deteriorating situation of religious minorities in Tunisia.

In this context, the association intervened in the 13th session of the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues, whose targeted issue was the “Hate Speech, Social Media and Minorities”, ATTALAKI’s intervention focused on religious extremism and hate speech in the Tunisian parliament, which has repeatedly targeted religious minorities in Tunisia, until the justification of terrorist acts in France recently for one of the deputies.

In Tunisia, we find ourselves in a reality increasingly marked by the challenges regarding religious freedom in general, in particular, that the State continues its policy of indifference before a fundamental issue, especially for a country that claims to be in a democratic transition towards a rule of law marked by universal values, as predicted in the preamble to the Second Republic’s constitution.

 

ATTALAKI NGO is an idea founded by a group of Tunisian youth from different religious minorities on January 24, 2016 that advocates for dialogue and communication between different religions away from violence and hatred. In addition, ATTALAKI works on advancing the human consciousness for a world filled with more justice, equality, and freedom through establishing the values of love, peace and tolerance, as well as, the obligation to defend freedom of religion and belief, to hear the voice of religious minorities, and to reject all forms of discrimination and intolerance against them.

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