Tunisia blogger's Koranic verse trial 'must be halted'

Rana Jawad

BBC North Africa correspondent, Tunis

The rights group Amnesty International is calling on the Tunisian authorities to halt the prosecution of blogger Emna Chergui, whose trial is set to begin on Thursday.

The 27-year-old blogger is being prosecuted for sharing a satirical post about coronavirus on her social media account that looks like a verse from Islam’s holy book, the Koran.

If convicted, Ms Chergui could face a prison sentence of up to three years.

Imitating a Koranic text is considered a violation of something that is deemed to be sacred.

The image, which was reportedly designed and originally shared by an Algerian atheist who lives in France, contains text that says the virus came from China and tells people to wash their hands.

In a statement, Amnesty's North Africa director Amna Guellali said the right to freedom of expression extended to what “some might consider shocking or offensive”.

She called on the Tunisian government to amend the law "so they are compliant with human rights".

In early May, when the post was first shared during the fasting month of Ramadan and while the country was still largely under lockdown, it caused a stir online.

The head of one political party condemned it without naming her, saying the state had a duty to protect what was sacred in the same way it did to prohibit apostasy and incitement to hatred - but he called for a punishment other than imprisonment.

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Thirty Tunisians hospitalised after Eid alcohol poisoning

Rana Jawad

BBC North Africa correspondent, Tunis

Health workers disinfect banks in Tunis, Tunisia
Getty Images
Tunisia was one of the first African countries to introduce strict measures

Six people have died and around 30 others hospitalised in Tunisia since Sunday after drinking tainted homemade alcohol.

The alcohol was consumed across several towns and cities in the province of Kairouan.

The cases first came to light on Sunday - the day of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

State news agency TAP reports that a man and a woman were arrested in the town of Hajeb Al Ayoun on suspicion of selling the tainted brew and 87 litres seized by police.

Toxic levels of methanol that is sometimes contained in homemade alcohol can be fatal or lead to visual impairment.

There have been several cases of methanol poisoning in Tunisia over the years. Consumption of illegally sold brew is common because it is cheaper and more accessible to the majority, particularly in poorer areas.

The country has eased coronavirus containment measures but some restrictions still remain: large public events are banned, a permit is required for travel between regions and shopping malls, bars and restaurants remain closed.

Honey farmers create a buzz in Tunis with sweet treat

Rana Jawad

BBC North Africa correspondent, Tunis

A farmer pressing the honey
Rana Jawad

It’s not every day here in Tunisia, or anywhere for that matter, that beekeepers appear on the streets to extract their honey, filling dozens of jars with raw and unfiltered honey. But in the capital, Tunis, they received an eager audience when they did so on Sunday.

Dozens of beehives in numerous crates were transported by the farmers from Kelibia, on the north-east coast, to a neighbourhood in the capital.

And the honey was cold-pressed in front of a delighted crowd.

Scraping off honey
Honey in a pressing machine

Some of the farmers wore masks and there was little to no physical distancing amongst eager consumers and onlookers.

Over half the country’s commercial activity has resumed since lockdown measures against coronavirus were gradually lifted this month. For several days last week, the country recorded zero new positive tests.

So it’s been a sweet exit from lockdown for some.

And what better way to mark it than with jars of honey with pieces of beeswax and pollen.

Jars of honey

Coronavirus: Tunisia relaxes curfew hours

Rana Jawad

BBC News, Tunis

Women wearing face masks in a carriage of the Tunis metro in the capital Tunis on 4 May 2020
No new infection has been reported in the past three days

Tunisia has reduced its nightly curfew hours for a second time.

A 12-hour curfew that was introduced a little under a month ago to help combat coronavirus has been reduced to six hours.

The country has not recorded any new cases of the disease for three days.

Health officials say half of those who have been recorded as having the infection have recovered and only a few people remain in hospital.

Some restrictions still remain: large public events are banned, a permit is required for travel between regions and shopping malls, bars and restaurants remain closed.

Covid-19: Are Tunisia's strict measures paying off?

Rana Jawad

BBC North Africa correspondent, Tunis

Zero new cases testing positive for Covid-19 in Tunisia does not necessarily mean there are no new cases across the country - but rather that the sample size tested recorded no new infections.

This is still good news for the small Mediterranean country, and shows its approach is paying off, so far at least.

It was one of the first on the continent to introduce strict measures like the mandatory two-week quarantine on all arrivals from abroad, as soon as the first case emerged in early March, and a nightly curfew and lockdown just over two weeks later.

At no point did its hospitals or intensive care units get overwhelmed with patients suffering from respiratory-related illnesses.

It has not been mass testing - officials explained their strategy focused on tracing, testing and isolating contacts of a positive case, and wider members of the same community if they test positive.

Despite some violations of all the measures, and flashes of small protests over livelihood concerns, most people abided by the rules.

With the lockdown being eased, 50% of the workforce and public administrations are functioning again.

However, inter-city travel and leaving one's residential neighbourhood is still banned, unless people have an official work authorisation letter.

This may have been key to controlling the spread of coronavirus.

Coronavirus: Tunisia records zero new cases

Tunisia recorded no new cases of Covid-19 for the first time since early March, health authorities said on Monday, as the government announced it would further relax restrictions on movement and businesses.

The North African country, which confirmed its first case on 2 March, has reported 1,032 cases in total and 45 deaths.

The authorities say 745 patients have recovered and only 11 are still in hospital.

Tunisia started relaxing a nationwide lockdown last week, reopening parts of the food, construction and transport sectors and allowing half of government employees to return to work.

Shopping malls, clothing stores and hairdressers are due to re-open on the 24 May.

The government said it expected the economy to shrink by up to 4.3%, the steepest drop since independence in 1956.

The key tourism sector could lose $1.4bn (£1.1bn) and 400,000 jobs this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports.

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Tunisia to ease lockdown restrictions

BBC World Service

A robot checking someone's papers during the lockdown in Tunis, Tunisia
A police robot has been on patrol during the lockdown in the capital

Tunisia’s Health Minister Abdelatif el-Makki says his country has controlled the "first wave" of its coronavirus outbreak.

The North African nation has had 40 deaths, and less than 1,000 confirmed cases.

It now plans to ease its lockdown.

Parts of its food and construction sectors will be allowed to re-open next week, and half of the government’s employees will go back to work.

Tunisians held over plot to infect police officers

BBC World Service

Tunisian riot police officers assemble in the capital, Tunis
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Tunisia's nationwide lockdown ends on 19 April

The interior ministry in Tunisia says that two men, including a suspected jihadist, have been arrested over an alleged plot to infect members of the security forces with coronavirus.

The ministry says that the suspected jihadist - recently released from prison - had tried to encourage those who might have the virus to cough on police and security officials.

The other man says that he was told to deliberately cough everywhere when he reported to his local police station - as part of the surveillance he was under.

He is being tested to see if he has coronavirus.

Coronavirus: The students that are printing PPE masks in Tunisia
Engineering students are helping Tunisia in the fight against Covid-19 by 3D-printing face masks.

Tunisian 'threatened over coronavirus belly dance'

BBC World Service

Nermine Sfar looking in a mirror
Nermine Sfar has been performing performs to hundreds of thousands of people each evening

An actress in Tunisia says she has received death threats from Islamist militants after she started streaming live videos of herself belly dancing with the aim of entertaining people in lockdown because of the coronavirus.

Nermine Sfar said the threats had come from people connected to a Tunisian-based group with links to al-Qaeda.

Her nightly dance performances on Facebook have drawn tens of thousands of viewers.

Sfar says her intention is not just to entertain but to encourage people to stay at home.

She is no stranger to grand public gestures - she put herself forward as a candidate in last year's Tunisian presidential election on a feminist platform.

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