A Tunisian secular activist and blogger was arrested for drinking alcohol during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a move set to anger the opposition which is suspicious of the Islamist-led government’s policies on public morality.
Soufiene Chourabi made a name for himself criticising former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s policies before the start of a revolt that later toppled the autocrat and sparked a wave of popular protests that came to be known as the “Arab Spring”.
Chourabi has since warned that the Ennahda Islamist Movement – which is leading the current government – is imposing an increasing number of restrictions on public freedom. A few days before his arrest, he had called for a protest in front of the Interior Ministry to demand greater liberty, reuters reports.
Anis Zine, his lawyer, said Chourabi was arrested along with two of his friends early on Sunday when police spotted them drinking on a beach in the western town of Menzel Temime.
He may be charged with public drunkenness and breaching morality and could be jailed for six months if found guilty, Zine added.
A group of supporters gathered on Sunday in front of Menzel Temime’s police station where Chourabi is being detained to demand his release.
Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
While Tunisia’s laws on public morality are still among the most liberal in the Arab region, the consumption of alcohol during Ramadan is frowned upon.
A popular tourist destination, Tunisia has traditionally allowed areas and bars and restaurants popular with tourists to continue serving alcohol during Ramadan.
However, there have been signs this year that the authorities may be getting more strict and the country’s national flag carrier – Tunisair – has stopped selling alcohol during the holy month.
Tunisian civil society and secular opposition groups have expressed concern about what they call “creeping Islamisation” under a government which is dominated by Ennahda and two left-wing parties.