Rights group slams ‘absurd’ Ramadan penalty in Tunisia

tunisia-ramadan2TUNIS: Rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday dismissed as “absurd” the jailing in Tunisia of people who fail to observe the Ramadan fast.

There is no law against eating or drinking in public during Ramadan, but every year the issue comes to the fore in the North African country.

On Monday, a court sentenced to one month in prison a man who smoked a cigarette in public during the dawn-to-dusk fast.

He was seen smoking outside the Bizerte courthouse by a judiciary official who informed the police and they arrested him.

Prosecuting people on a charge of “public indecency” for smoking or eating in public during Ramadan “is a clear violation of individual freedoms in Tunisia”, Amnesty said in a statement Tuesday.

“Imprisoning someone for smoking a cigarette or eating in public is an absurd violation of an individual’s personal freedoms,” said the rights group’s North Africa research director, Heba Morayef.

“Failing to conform to religious and social customs is not a criminal offence.”

She said the “authorities should not allow vaguely worded charges to be used to impose harsh sentences on spurious grounds. Everyone should have the right to follow their own beliefs in matters of religion and morality.”

On Sunday, dozens of Tunisians demonstrated in Tunis to demand the right to eat and drink in public during Ramadan.

During the holy month, observant Muslims worldwide abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn to dusk.

Tunisia’s constitution guarantees “freedom of belief and conscience”, but the state is also the “guardian of religion”.