Statement on the Conviction of Emna Chargui in Tunisia

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Portrait of Emna Chargui, a young Tunisian blogger prosecuted by the courts for a Facebook post considered as "inciting hatred between religions and calling for discrimination", she faces 3 years in prison, verdict on 13 July. Here in her apartment that is being moved, her landlord does not want to host "kafir" ("miscreant"), she proudly displays her tattoo made in 2012 "out law" ("out of law"). On 14 July she was sentenced to six months in prison for inciting hatred between religions and fined 2,000 dinars (620 euros) for violation of the sacred. Her lawyers have appealed. Tunisia on 12 July 2020. Photo by Nicolas Fauque/Images de Tunisie/ABACAPRESS.COM

© Photo by Nicolas Fauque/Images de Tunisie/ABACAPRESS.COM

The Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch initiative monitored the trial in Tunisia of Emna Chargui, a blogger convicted of ‘inciting hatred between religions through hostile means or violence’ and ‘infringing an authorized religion.’

She was sentenced to six months imprisonment for the former and fined 2,000 dinars for the latter. The court’s decision violates her right to freedom of expression.

The charges were based on a satirical comment on COVID-19 that took the form of a Quranic verse that she reposted on social media. This ‘Sura Corona’ pointed out, among other things, that the virus would equalize ‘kings and slaves.’ This is speech protected by treaties that Tunisia has ratified, including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. A full report assessing the trial under international human rights law will be released soon.

Chargui was not the author of ‘Sura Corona’; rather, she reposted it with the thought that it would make others laugh. The prosecution presented no evidence to show that Chargui had intended to incite hostility or violence against Muslims or that imminent hostility or violence was likely to occur as a result of her post. In fact, it was Chargui who was immediately subjected to threats, including threats of murder and rape.

In its 2020 review of Tunisia’s human rights records, the UN Human Rights Committee noted with concern that “a number of legal provisions . . . continue to criminalize activities related to the exercise of freedom of expression.” And human rights groups have called for the charges in this case to be dropped.

CFJ calls for Chargui’s conviction to be reversed and for the authorities to allow her to exercise her right to freedom of expression.


Articles 52 and 53 of Tunisia’s 2011 Law on freedom of the press criminalize, respectively, ‘direct incitement of hatred between religions by calling for hostility or violence’ and ‘knowing infringement on an authorized religion.’ These provisions, as well as others that have recently been invoked to prosecute individuals for online commentary, predate Tunisia’s 2014 constitution, which enshrines the right to freedom of expression. Further, as the UN Human Rights Committee has made clear, “[p]rohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system . . . are incompatible with” international human rights law, except “in the specific circumstances envisaged in article 20, paragraph 2, of the [ICCPR].”

In this case, the prosecution alleged that posting ‘text similar to the Qu’ran’ constituted an offense under Article 52. But the defense argued that it would not have been clear to a reasonable person that this was criminal conduct. Indeed, one lawyer for the defense pointed out that historically many poems have taken the style of Quranic verse. Further, the defense asserted that the text in no way prevented anyone from practicing their faith under Article 53— at most, it may have been embarrassing.

The full TrialWatch Fairness Report, based on TrialWatch’s monitoring of the trial hearing in this case, will be made available soon.

TrialWatch is a Clooney Foundation for Justice initiative that monitors criminal trials globally against those who are most vulnerable—particularly journalists, democracy defenders, women and girls, LGBTQ+ persons, and minorities—and advocates for the rights of the unfairly convicted or imprisoned, as well as for the reform of the laws used against them. TrialWatch has worked in over 40 countries. Anyone can take TrialWatch’s UN-approved training to become a monitor. TrialWatch's monitoring and advocacy have led to individuals unfairly targeted through the courts being freed or acquitted, and wrongful convictions prevented or overturned. Relying on the information monitors gather directly from courtrooms around the world, TrialWatch is building a Global Justice Index that will be the first to evaluate and rank countries on their justice systems through real-world data.