The dean of a Tunisian university accused of assaulting a veiled female student was acquitted Thursday.
Two female students, including Fatouma Haji, the one who accused him of assault, were convicted of damaging the dean’s property and each received postponed four-month sentences.
In a press conference following the verdict’s announcement, Dean Habib Kazdaghli said he thanked “democratic forces and the media for their support. The judicial system has proven its independence despite attempts to influence the process.”
The press conference at Manouba University was attended by various scholars and several members of the National Constituent Assembly, including Nadia Chaaban of the opposition Al Massar party.
Kazdaghli, dean of the University of Arts and Humanities at Manouba, was accused in March 2012 of assaulting Haji, who was wearing a niqab, a veil revealing only the eyes. Kazdaghli has consistently denied these accusations, saying the fully veiled student stormed in and ransacked his office.
The incident sparked a national debate and controversy between secular and religious forces in society over whether female students should be able to wear the niqab.
Kazdaghli’s trial has taken place over the course of the last year. He has received support from several scholars and professors, the Tunisian General Labor Union (known by its French acronym UGTT) and also from some members of the National Constituent Assembly.
Kazdaghli had expressed concern in the past over the Islamist government’s potential influence over the trial. He previously told Tunisia Live that he was concerned justice would be politicized.
Last year’s incident followed several student demonstrations and a number of clashes that erupted over the school’s policy to prohibit female students from wearing the niqab in classes and on campus.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the sentences of the two students were suspended, not postponed.