Habib Kazdaghli, the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities
Tunis - Nabil Zaghdoud
The Court of First Instance in Tunisia\'s Manouba governorate (15km northwest of the capital Tunis) has decided to defer a trial hearing against the Humanities Department Dean in Manouba University,
Habib Kazdaghli, on charges of slapping a student wearing Niqab ( Face veil , to October 25.
The dean’s lawyers announced that the postponement case came at their request.
The case is part of a long-running dispute between secularists and religious conservatives at the school. The Thursday hearing was attended in solidarity by many members of civil society and human rights activists.
Students at Manouba University known as Salafists, who follow an ultraconservative strand of Islam, have been pushing for greater piety on the campus just outside Tunis, the capital, as well as for prayer rooms and allowing female students to sit exams wearing the religious face veil.
They have been opposed by Dean Kazdaghli, who has denounced efforts to add religion to the university, and the result has been rival demonstrations, clashes between students and, at one point, a months-long sit-in by Salafists that disrupted winter exams.
A young Salafist student, Inam Baroha, filed a lawsuit against Kazdaghli claiming he assaulted her in his office. The dean has denied that, saying he was only defending himself against an agitated student who burst into his office uninvited.
\"The victim has become the guilty one,\" he told reporters. \"It was I who first filed charges against the two veiled students who charged into my office and ransacked my papers.\" He said his suit has yet to be acted on by prosecutors.
Baroha was also allegedly expelled for six months for qearing the niqab.
Kazdaghli is being charged with \"violence perpetrated by a civil servant in the course of his duties,\" a crime that carries a penalty of 16 days to three years in prison and a fine of between $37 and $300.
Manouba University has been one of the most visible flashpoints of the struggle in post-uprising Tunisia over the role of religion in public life.
Under the secular dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, outward signs of religiosity were strongly discouraged and Islamists often imprisoned. Since his overthrow in a popular uprising in January 2011, there has been in an explosion of public piety, which has often come into conflict with many members of the secular establishment.