Tunisia Salafist gets suspended sentence for unauthorised preaching
AFP, Friday 14 Mar 2014

A Tunisian court has given a controversial hardline Salafist a three-month suspended prison sentence for preaching at a mosque without permission, a judicial source said Friday.

The ruling comes as authorities seek to regain control of certain mosques they say have fallen under the influence of radical Islamists.

The district court in Mateur, in northern Bizerte province, "gave Khamis Mejri a three-month suspended jail sentence, and he is still being prosecuted in three separate cases," said Mongi Boulares, spokesman for the public prosecutor in Bizerte.

Khamis Mejri, who does not hide his admiration for slain Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, is due to appear at a court in Bizerte on March 18, he added.

Known for his controversial appearances on television, Mejri was arrested Tuesday after preaching without authorisation.

A 1988 law bans "any activity in mosques, in the form of speeches, meetings or writings, by people not belonging to the institution that oversees their work, unless authorised by the prime minister."

The ministry of religious affairs announced on Monday that it had decided to fix the opening hours of mosques in Tunisia, to prevent them from "being used for reasons that are at odds with their religious nature."

According to senior ministry official Abdessattar Badr, around 150 of Tunisia's 5,100 mosques are outside the state's control, including some 50 under the influence of radical imams, or prayer leaders. Others say the real number is higher.

Some fear that the intention behind the authorities' decision to tighten their control of mosques is to silence dissent on the pretext of combatting terrorism.