Persepolis” trial resumes amid heavy security

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Tight secu­rity marked Thursday’s resump­tion in the trial of a Tunisian TV sta­tion direc­tor charged with vio­lat­ing sacred val­ues and dis­turb­ing pub­lic order for hav­ing screened the Franco-Iranian ani­mated fea­ture film Perse­po­lis.

Islamists and sup­port­ers of Nessma TV chief Nabil Karoui held rival protests out­side the court in the cap­i­tal, Tunis. Police stood on heavy guard, screen­ing any­one attempt­ing to get into the trial chamber.

Act­ing like spoiled 5 year-olds who don’t get their way, dozens of young hard­line Salafist Mus­lims set up a loud­speaker out­side the cour­t­house, wav­ing black flags inscribed with Islamic verses and plac­ards call­ing for Karoui’s exe­cu­tion. They shouted “Get lost! Shame­ful media get lost!” On the other side of the cour­t­house, Nessma sup­port­ers sang the national anthem and chanted “Free media in Tunisia!”

It’s a deci­sive day for free­dom of speech and of the press,” Karoui told French news ser­vice Agence France-Presse. “The ver­dict will be his­toric and will have an effect on the region.”

Free expres­sion is on trial in Tunisia after the rev­o­lu­tion, and this poses a dan­ger to Tunisians who call for the right to express them­selves with­out per­mis­sion from reli­gious lead­ers,” Karoui told reporters. “I hope that we can turn a page on this once and for all and return calmly to work at Nessma.”

Last Octo­ber 7, Karoui’s sta­tion broad­cast the Oscar-nominated Perse­po­lis (2007), which, through a young girl, tells about the Iran­ian rev­o­lu­tion and its effects. The film infu­ri­ated hard­lin­ers due to a scene depict­ing God, whose rep­re­sen­ta­tion is banned in Islam.

Within two days of the broad­cast, Islamic mil­i­tants held vio­lent demon­stra­tions in Tunis, attack­ing the TV station’s offices and Karoui’s home.

The court said Thurs­day that ver­dict will be deliv­ered May 3. Karoui’s trial opened Novem­ber 16 and has been adjourned twice.

The trial resumed with Nessma tele­vi­sion denounc­ing what it called an attempt to silence it and com­plain­ing that its right to oper­ate freely had been taken away.

Amnesty Inter­na­tional urged the country’s new Islamist-led gov­ern­ment not to repeat the repres­sion of for­mer Tunisian pres­i­dent Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first leader over­thrown in the Arab Spring.

Pros­e­cut­ing and con­vict­ing peo­ple on the basis of the peace­ful expres­sion of their views, even if some might find them offen­sive, is totally unac­cept­able and not what we would expect from the new Tunisia,” said Has­siba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s regional deputy direc­tor. “It’s rem­i­nis­cent of the vio­la­tions of the ousted Ben Ali gov­ern­ment and must stop.”

The judi­ciary was used in Ben Ali’s day to attack free­dom of expres­sion, and we hope that it will not be used now to attack free­doms but to pro­tect them,” said human rights lawyer Rad­hia Nas­raoui, a mem­ber of the defense team for Nessma.

France’s Inter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Human Rights (FIDH) sent an observer. French lawyers were in court as well.

The trial “involves a fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple, that of free­dom of expres­sion and free­dom of cre­ation,” said French mag­is­trate Antoine Gara­pon of FIDH. He called the trial a test of Tunisia’s democracy.

French press free­dom orga­ni­za­tion Reporters With­out Bor­ders sent an observer to the trial. Olive Gre said that she hoped for an acquit­tal. The trial “never should have taken place,” she told AFP.

A trial over a film dam­ages the image of Tunisia abroad,” said long­time sec­u­lar politi­cian Nejib Chebbi.

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