[JURIST] Tunisian members of parliament rejected Islam as the main source of law for the country on Saturday as they voted to establish a new constitution. The Islamist-led party and secular parties overcame [Reuters report] intense debate about Islam’s role in the country before beginning to draft the new constitution. The National Constituent Assembly adopted [SBS report] only 12 of the proposed 146 articles despite a January 14 deadline for the completion of the new constitution. The first clause of the constitution says Tunisia is “a free country, independent, with sovereignty; Islam is its religion, Arabic its language and the republic its regime.” However, Article 6 makes the state the “guardian of religion”, “protector of the sacred” and guarantor of “freedom of conscience”. The Tunisian government [official website, in Arabic] employed heavy security in the capital Tunis during the parliament assembly to deter attacks from radical Islamists opposed to the adoption of the new constitution in place of Islam law.
Tunisia has faced political turmoil since president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile, news archive] left office amid nationwide protests in 2011. In July UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] condemned [JURIST report] the assassination of Tunisian opposition leader. In May Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged Tunisia to modify its draft constitution [JURIST report] to ensure protection of human rights. Two months earlier HRW urged Tunisia to repeal its criminal defamation law [JURIST report], which is typically considered a civil offense throughout the world. That same month Tunisian lawmakers voted to approve [JURIST report] a timetable for its draft constitution and national elections. Last October, HRW called on Tunisian authorities to investigate a series of attacks [JURIST report] by religious extremists and to bring those responsible to justice.