Tunisia Criminalizes Racism
On October 9, Tunisia approved legislation criminalizing racist speech, incitement to hatred, and discrimination. The law passed almost unanimously, with 125 votes for, one against, and five abstaining. “This is a very important turning point in the history of Tunisia, equivalent to the abolition of slavery,” said Messaoud Romdhani, head of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights. Though activist groups have pressured the government to put anti-racist legislation in place for years, political support for this increased exponentially in 2016. On Christmas Day that year, three Congolese students were stabbed on a train. The crime was likely motivated by racism, and sparked outrage across the country. Afterwards, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed expressed his support for anti-racism legislation.
The law is being considered a historic step in protecting minority rights for Black Tunisians and sub- saharan Africans, who collectively make up 10-15 per cent of the population. Recent survey data indicated that Black Tunisians are socio- economically disadvantaged compared to other Tunisians as a result of systemic discrimination and racial biases.
Legislators have indicated that putting the legislation into practice to enact a culture shift is an important step to eliminate this gap. Under the newly passed legislation, use of racist language can result in a 1,000 dinar fine (approximately $462 CAD), or offenders being jailed for up to a month. Incitement to hatred, making racist threats, spreading or advocating racism, and belonging to a group which supports discrimination, are each punishable by one to three years in prison and fines of up to 3,000 dinars. To fulfill its own mandate and educate the public, a National Commission Against Racial Discrimination will be tasked with conducting awareness and training campaigns.