Tunisia woman gets 6 months in jail for COVID-Koran post

A young Tunisian woman was Tuesday sentenced to six months in jail over a parody posted on Facebook linking the Koran and COVID-19.

A Tunis court found Emna Charki, 27, guilty of offending religion and “incitement to hatred” in a May 4 satirical post entitled “the Corona Surah”, mimicking the Koran in reference to the illness.

“There’s no difference between kings and slaves, follow science and ignore traditions,” a passage reads.

Charki, who is not in custody and has 10 days to appeal, was also fined 2,000 dinars ($750).

Appearing in a red Che Guevara t-shirt, she told reporters she would file an appeal against the “illogical” sentence.

“In a country of freedom, where the constitution guarantees freedom of expression… and women’s rights, they condemn me, a woman free in my beliefs,” she said, visibly shaken up.

She and her mother said they were preparing to move out of the apartment they share as their landlord wanted them out because of the court case.

“My daughter’s future is destroyed,” said Charki’s mother, wearing a blue headscarf. With the conviction, “she will no longer be able to work or even to walk the street freely.”

Emna Charki said the authorities had failed to take action against threats she had been receiving.

Former MP Bochra Belhaj Hmida was among those who stood up for her.

“After all that Tunisia’s youth have done for this country, the hunger for freedom they’ve shown, it’s unbelievable that decisions can still be taken based on obsolete anti-freedom laws,” she told AFP.

“It’s as if nothing has changed, ten years after the revolution, six after the constitution and a grand debate on individual freedoms,” she said, referring to a 2014 compromise basic law guaranteeing “freedom of belief, of conscience” but also the protection of religion.

Tunisia is seen as a rare democratic success story of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, which toppled dictators in several states.

Amnesty International has also criticised Charki’s trial, saying her Facebook post was “a humorous text that imitates the verses of Quran to make fun of the COVID-19 situation”.

It was “void of any incitement to hatred or violence,” Amnesty said. The post was “intended to be funny and it even includes a call for staying home and washing hands.”

The novel coronavirus has claimed 50 lives and infected more than 1,300 people in Tunisia.