A Tunisian man has been sentenced to jail for smoking a cigarette in public during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
A Tunisian court spokesman, Chokri Lahmar said the man was seen smoking outside the Bizerte courthouse by a judiciary official who informed the police before they arrested him and referred him to the prosecution. However, the accused has 10 days to appeal before the sentence takes effect.
A day before his arrest, dozens of local rights activists gathered in the capital Tunis to defend the right to eat and drink in public during Ramadan.
On June 1, four men were sentenced to one-month jail terms for eating in public during Ramadan, causing rights activists in the country to agitate against the country’s illegal crackdown on those who don’t fast during the Muslim holy month.
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The activists of Mouch Bessif’ (Not against our will) chanted slogans and held posters in Arabic, English, and French, which said:
“Why does it bother you if you fast and I eat?”
The group called on the government to guarantee the constitutional right of belief and conscience in the country.
“I fast but I came to join this protest and call with these people for respect for the freedom of belief and conscience.
“Whoever wants to fast can fast, but whoever doesn’t want to shouldn’t have to, a demonstrator said.
The group also called for eateries to open before sunset, as cafes and restaurants are typically closed until Iftar, or the evening meal.
On June 2, a French newspaper reported that two artists in the city of Sousse were arrested after the police found an empty bottle of wine in the trunk of their car.
Speaking to a French news outlet, a 17-year-old Tunisian high school student, Meriem said that she’s “disgusted” by the government’s actions against non-fasters. The student who had just taken a school test said she wasn’t fasting on the day so she could retain her strength.
“I was really disgusted (by these arrests). It is true that I usually fast, but you do not interfere in people’s freedom
“Even if he is a Muslim, it is his choice! Even if he’s Jewish, we do not care, it’s really his choice! Why does it bother you that people do not fast? I don’t understand,” Meriem said.
Although Tunisia, whose constitution guarantees “freedom of belief and conscience” has no laws punishing those who don’t fast during Ramadan, the issue comes up every year in the North African country.
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The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is seen as a time for spiritual reflection, self-improvement and family gathering. During Ramadan, Muslims around the world abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn to dusk. They break the fast with a meal known as iftar and before dawn they have a second opportunity to eat and drink during suhur.