The government continued to imprison individuals for speech it deemed blasphemous or offensive to the country’s Islamic norms. The government sought to assert control over mosques and prevent imams from teaching “divisive” theology.
Jabeur Mejri, a self-described atheist who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for posting cartoons of a naked Prophet Muhammad online, remained in prison for blasphemy following an unsuccessful appeal. President Marzouki pledged to pardon Mejri in November, but has yet to do so.
A decree-law, from September 2011, lifted a previous ban on parties based on religious affiliation. The government accredited four explicitly religious parties. Since 2011, a total of nine Islamic parties have been established, although Nahda is the only religious party with significant popular support. The Prime Ministry rejected an application made by a party named Hezbollah Tunisia on grounds that it sought to establish a caliphate.
The government monitored, isolated, and confronted some Salafists they considered violent. In May, Islamists and security forces clashed in Kairouan after the Interior Ministry outlawed Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia’s (AAS-T) annual conference on the grounds it posed a threat to public security. AAS-T then tried to hold the conference in al-Tadamon, a suburb outside the capital Tunis, where violence between security personnel and protestors left one person dead. The government designated AAS-T a terrorist organization in August after linking it to two political assassinations during the year.
In June, six Islamists were sentenced to five years in prison for attacking a Sufi shrine in the Manouba governorate in October 2012. Following a January 12 attack on a shrine in Sidi Bou Said, the government established a department at the National Institute of Patrimony, under authority of the Ministry of Culture, to protect historic and cultural monuments. According to the Ministry of Culture, as many as 26 shrines were vandalized during the year, but their locations in remote areas made it difficult to identify the perpetrators.
According to media reports, independent Islamist groups took control of as many as one-fifth of the country’s 5,000 mosques following the 2011 revolution. The government has since retaken control of most of these. In May 2013, Minister of Religious Affairs Nourredine Khadmi cited a figure of 100 mosques outside of government control and in November lowered that figure to 40. Independent analysts, however, question the extent to which the government exercises authority over the sermons and activities of mosques it claims to control. The Ministry of Religious Affairs continued to monitor and remove imams accused of preaching “divisive” theology. For example, in September the ministry accused a Salafist activist of illegally declaring himself imam of al-Omran mosque in Monastir. A judge agreed and found Bilel Chaouachi guilty, but suspended his three-month prison sentence. In June, eight imams from Gulf states were denied entry in an effort to counteract “extremist ideology,” according to local media. The government also enlisted the support of mosque congregations to ensure that the values of moderation and tolerance were upheld and to counter threats of violent extremism.
Some members of the Jewish community expressed concern about their safety, but others downplayed reports of a growing threat. In October, the Grand Rabbi of Tunisia dismissed as isolated incidents events the head of a minority rights group had described as serious anti-Semitic crimes. Members of the Association of the Jewish Community of Tunis continued to meet weekly and perform religious activities and charity work unhindered despite the government not granting its 1999 registration request. Government leaders continued to denounce acts of anti-Semitism. After Jewish graves in Sousse were desecrated in January, then-Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali expressed “deep indignation at any criminal act undermining Tunisia’s cultural and historical heritage.”