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Tunisia presses enforcement of Muslim headscarf ban

[JURIST] The Tunisian government [official website, in French] has launched a new campaign against the public wearing of hijabs [III&E backgrounder], the headscarves worn by many Muslim women in the predominantly Islamic state north African state. Police have begun stopping Muslim women wearing the hijab on the street, asking them to remove it, and to sign an affidavit promising to never wear it again. A decree from 1981 bans wearing the headscarves in public, and senior government officials of the autocracy characterize the garments as sectarian, worn by people using religion to hide political aims. Tunisian rights activists argue that the government ban is unconstitutional, and that many people are upset by it, but few feel safe to openly challenge the government. In the US, the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the Tunisian move [press release] Thursday, saying:

The Tunisian law banning Islamic attire in certain areas, and the apparent expanded interpretation of that law, violates international human rights standards set forth by the United Nations and ratified by virtually every nation on earth.... Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a transnational treaty having the weight of international law states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. . .(and) to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
Tunisia [CIA backgrounder] is 98% Muslim, and takes some aspects of its legal system from Shari’a law [Guardian backgrounder; JURIST news archive]; since independence from France in 1956, the government has taken a harsh stance against Islamic fundamentalism, establishing both religious freedoms and a large number of women’s rights. Other civil freedoms, such as access to a free press, although officially sanctioned, are lacking. Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [official biography, in French] seems open to restricting signs and religious symbols that could enhance outlawed Islamic political opposition. The new intensity in enforcing the headscarf ban comes at a time when many other nations are considering legislation restricting religious dress [JURIST news archive]. BBC News has more.

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