MANOUBA, Tunisia, July 5, 2012 (AFP) -
MANOUBA, Tunisia, July 5, 2012 (AFP) –
An academic on trial for allegedly slapping a female student in a full-face veil saw his case postponed on Thursday, but the charges were toughened and he now faces five years in jail
An AFP reporter in court said the proceedings against Habib Kazdaghli, dean of the faculty of arts, letters and humanities at Manouba University outside Tunis, were postponed until October 25.
But instead of facing only a maximum of 15 days in jail for simple assault, he could now be sent to prison for five years after the charge was changed to one of violence committed by an official while carrying out his duties.
A local human rights lawyer, Mohamed Hedi Laabidi, said he believed members of the country’s Islamist-dominated government were involved in the case. “There is no doubt that the government is implicated in the case — the minister of higher education, the interior minister,” he said.
“It’s a set-up because the dean refuses to sign up to a model of society that is contrary to modernity,” Laabidi charged.
On the eve of Thursday’s hearing, Kazdaghli called the proceedings an attack on freedoms, telling AFP the case was the latest confrontation between his faculty and Salafist Muslims.
He said the student who lodged a complaint against him was expelled from his faculty for six months because she had refused to remove her veil, known as a niqab.
“This trial is not just about me, it is aimed at all those who defend academic freedoms and who promote the respect of educational rules,” he said.
Kazdaghli has the support of university staff and trade unionists who have spoken out against the trial.
A committee that defends university values and academic freedoms issued a statement saying Kazdaghli “is not the guilty party, he is the victim of aggression.”
On Thursday, surrounded by some 200 supporters outside the court, he slammed extremist Islamists.
“The people who dragged me here today are the same people who themselves attack personal freedoms and the national flag,” he charged.
“This case is a pretext to advance another agenda, of separating girls and boys in university,” he said. “This is not a vision of modernity. On trial today is the university, our bridge to the world and to progress.”
Manouba University, 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the capital and home to some 13,000 students, is considered a left-wing bastion in Tunisia.
It has been rocked by protests and weeks-long sit-ins after the university banned women from wearing the niqab over security concerns.
Earlier this year, six students were disciplined for wearing the niqab.