Imams or criminals.

The former minister of religious affairs, Noureddine Khadmi, was again banned from traveling on Thursday 18 August. This is the seventh time according to his statements.

The Ministry of the Interior has not yet commented on his case, despite the controversy he sparked on social networks and the open letter he sent to the President of the Republic.

Noureddine Khadmi is not the only one suffering from this restrictive measure. Three days ago, Attayar Amal Saïdi’s deputy was also banned from traveling without reason.

This restrictive and administrative measure has always existed in Tunisia, before and after the revolution, before and after the July 25 coup. It is commonly called S17.

Under Ben Ali, it targeted activists opposed to the despotic regime. After the revolution, the borders were completely opened (with the exception of those who were forbidden to travel by a legal decision in good and proper form), especially under the Troika regime.

With the arrival of the late Béji Caïd Essebsi to power, the administrative travel ban measure was again implemented. The reason is all justified, even if it is against the applicable laws. Thousands of Tunisians joined the terror camps of Daesh, sparking an outcry both in Tunisia and abroad. How do you distinguish ordinary travelers from candidates for jihad and terrorism? The authority of the day found nothing better than digging into Home Office intelligence files to ban would-be terrorists from traveling. Arbitrary? Of course, but it was the only way the authorities could find to stop the bleeding.

Since the majority of the travel bans were Islamist, it was not uncommon for them to appeal to Ennahdha deputies to be boosted and go abroad. On this subject, the former deputy Yamina Zoghlami has made a specialty of forcing the border police to let young S17 files go. She was proud to be above the head of government and that it was within her power to do so. Has she let go of candidates for terrorism? Is it possible.

After the death of Béji Caïd Essebsi and the 2019 elections, the Islamists of Ennahdha delegated this mission to their “bumper”, the radical Islamists of Al Karama.

At the very first entry ban on a veiled woman, Al Karama deputies traveled en masse to put on a show at the airport. Their president Seïf Eddine Makhlouf shouted in the terminal to say that he will put an end to S17, in an attempt to force the border police to let this veiled woman go. Except the border police officers weren’t intimidated this time, they flatly refused to let the lady go and kicked Makhlouf and the other deputies out of the airport. They were supported on the same day by their Minister of the Interior and Head of Government, Hichem Mechichi.

Seïf Eddine Makhlouf can then cry foul, the violation of the law and the fact that the travel ban must only be pronounced by a judge, the Ministry of the Interior has not changed its policy on a whim. He went on to ban travel to anyone who might damage Tunisia’s image abroad.

The July 25 coup was a turning point and the S17 measure was expanded to include thousands of people. Among others, political figures, business leaders, former ministers or high-ranking state leaders were banned from traveling. There are even some that were brought down from the plane when it left its location and was about to take off. The measure was observed for a few weeks before being partially lifted.

Of course, we no longer hear about an entry ban every day, but it is clear that the measure is still appropriate, as from time to time there is a political figure who comes out in the media to complain about the border police who prevent him from travel while there is no decision or prosecution against them. This is the case with Ms. Saïdi or Mr. Khadmi.

Should we cry foul or accept this dictate from the Ministry of the Interior, which alone decides on the citizens’ freedoms?

Although the debate deserves to be launched in the public square, it is lacking.

The Home Office certainly has its reasons for banning X or Y from travelling, but it never communicates them. In any case, there is no court ruling that justifies the ban, and that is the whole problem. If the judges had done their job well, we wouldn’t be here!

The case of Noureddine Khadmi alone shows that there is a problem in the system. The Ministry of the Interior alone decides on the entry ban when it should have been served by a judge for years.

It is good to remember that whoever presents himself as Imam and Sheikh is among those who called for Jihad. His radical sermons and his hateful calls against opponents of the Islamists are still remembered. How is it that justice still hasn’t dealt with his case? This guy is dangerous and has caused damage to the land. Her place is not in the airport, she has to go to court to answer for her actions.

Like him, there is Imam Ridha Jaouadi, an independent deputy elected on Al Karama’s lists. A year after the July 25 deed, he continues to evade justice despite the complaints against him. Complaints related to his sermons and his calls for jihad.

Mohamed Affes, doctor, imam and MP for Al Karama is also one of the sheikhs known for their radical sermons. And despite the complaints against him, he continues to evade justice.

The case of Said Jaziri is the most scandalous of all. This deputy imam from Errahma founded a pirate radio station, imported illegal transmission equipment and has been the subject of numerous complaints, some of them criminal. Despite these violations of the law, despite the complaints and despite his radical preaching, he continues to enjoy his freedom.

The question that every Tunisian must ask themselves now, should we let these people travel abroad freely since justice has not ruled against them, or should we apply a preventive measure by preventing them from traveling? What is to be done with those who have committed no reprehensible act, and are therefore not prosecuted by Justice, but who are suspected of committing it abroad?

The Ministry of the Interior did not wait for the response to react. Taking advantage of the despotic atmosphere in the country, he resumed his old habits from before the revolution. Arbitrary? Yes, except the reason seems good this time.

To avoid this illegality, to avoid repeated scandals within the airport area, it is obvious that the judiciary must act by quickly speaking against all these sheikhs and imams who are known for their radical sermons and who in one way or another is involved in sending Tunisians to terrorist camps. A reflection is also necessary for cases of candidates for terrorism and which have not yet taken action.

Raouf Ben Hedi

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