Anti-racism legislation exists in Tunisia, but what about its implementation?

The North-African country has long been a regular destination for students from sub-Saharan Africa, counting 4,200 asylum seekers and 7,000 students, according to the National Observatory for Migration. Besides experiencing verbal and physical aggression in the country, Sub-Saharan African students face institutional racism, which includes delays in obtaining visas and issues in gaining access to healthcare and jobs.

In October 2018, Tunisia became one of the first African or Arab countries to adopt a law criminalising racial discrimination. The law was passed following pressure by Tunisian civil society, most prominently by the anti-racism advocacy group Mnemty. Under the legislation, individuals using racist language, inciting hatred or making racist threats, or advocating racism can face up to three years in prison and fines of as much as $1,050.

But implementation of the anti-racism law remains slow. As of today, there has been just one court ruling in favour of a victim of discrimination. In February 2019, a woman in the city of Sfax received a suspended sentence of five months in prison for allegedly attacking – verbally and physically – a primary school teacher over the colour of his skin, after he threw her daughter out of class.

Mnemty’s coordinator noted that there has been little state progress in implementing key provisions, including the running of training and awareness sessions in the educational and media fields, as well as within the police and judiciary.

Tunisians respond in solidarity

Tunisia was the first country in the Arab region to hold a demonstration in solidarity against the treatment of African Americans by police in the wake of the George Floyd tragedy.

Support for the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States has also been seen in other MENA countries, with some movements dovetailing George Floyd with their own protest motivations relating to police violence.

In Israel, for instance, Palestinian and Jewish Israelis rallied following the deadly Israeli police shooting of an autistic Palestinian man, Iyad Hallak, at the end of May. Demonstrators raised signs reading 'Palestinian Lives Matter' in a clear reference to the killing of George Floyd that sparked protests in several U.S. cities.

Last week, a protest against police violence took place in Turkey where some activists carried posters of George Floyd. Moreover, in Syria’s Idlib province, artists Aziz Asmar and Anis Hamdoun recently joined the U.S. protests by painting a mural depicting Floyd’s face on the remains of a destroyed building, along with the words "I can't breathe" and "No to racism". Photos of the mural subsequently went viral on social media.

In Lebanon, anti-government protesters turned to social media in an expression of solidarity using the hashtag #Americarevolts in Arabic after protests broke out in the United States. Within 24 hours, the hashtag became the number one trending tag in Lebanon.

Alessandra Bajec

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