Dr. Habib Kazdaghli, a dean at the University of Tunis-Manouba, was charged in relation to an incident that occurred on March 6, 2012. On this day, two students forcibly entered Dr. Kazdaghli’s office and began to vandalize it. Dr. Kazdaghi promptly reported the incident to the police, at which point one of the students called an ambulance, claiming that Dr. Kazdaghli had slapped her–an assertion that Dr. Kazdaghli denies. The incident led Dr. Kazdaghli to file a complaint with authorities. The student then filed her own charges against Dr. Kazdaghli, which Dr. Kazdaghli asserts are politically motivated.
This incident occurred in the context of a long-running dispute between the university faculty and student Salafists regarding the university’s decision to ban students from wearing the hijab during exams and in classrooms.
At the initial hearing on July 5th, (at which the student bringing the charges failed to appear), the charges against Dr. Kazdaghli were upgraded without explanation to “violence perpetrated by a civil servant in the course of his duties,” which holds a possible prison sentence of five years.
Update: On May 2, 2013 a Tunisian court acquitted Dean Kazdaghli of all charges. The students who forcibly entered his office were reportedly convicted of damaging property and interfering with a public official, and were given a suspended sentence.
While gratified by the acquittal, Scholars at Risk is concerned by prosecutors’ attempts to overturn the verdict on appeal and the government’s failure to clearly and unambiguously support the Dean and other nonviolent defenders of free inquiry and free expression, especially in the wake of the July 2013 assassination of a secular political leader, the second such assassination this year.
Update: The case was submitted for appeal in December 2013, but on June 17, 2014, the Court of Appeal in Tunis once again acquitted Dean Kazdaghli.