Tag Archives: Legal

Tunisian Court Says No To Persepolis



In a story we have been following closely, a court in Tunisia has has ruled that the head of a private TV station is guilty of disrupting public order and violating moral values for airing Persepolis.

Nabil Karoui defended the airing on freedom of speech grounds, whereas some religious leaders say the animated film say insults Islam. Flying in the face of the Arab Spring, which many hoped would bring new freedoms in the Middle East, the court in Tunis ordered Nabil Karoui to pay a 2,400-dinar (approx. $1,600) fine because his station, Nessma TV, aired the animated film last October 7th. A Nessma technician and another station official were both fined 1,200 dinars.

The case has pitted liberals and defenders of media freedom against hard-line Islamic groups who say that the film, which includes a depiction of God, is sacrilegious. The legal battle has underscored a struggle between secularists and Islamists the North African nation after last year’s overthrow of its longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first Arab Spring uprising.

In its ruling Thursday, the court convicted Karoui of causing “troubles to the public order” and “offense to good morals” but threw out a charge of “offense against a sacred item,” according to defense lawyer Abada Kefi.

Karoui, who was not in court for the judgement, has described his case as a key test for freedom of expression in Tunisia, which remains in flux following the January 2011 revolution that toppled an entrenched dictatorship and sparked the Arab Spring.

In a statement, US Ambassador Gordon Gray said Thursday’s ruling raised “serious concerns about tolerance and freedom of expression” in the wake of last year’s revolution against toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Reuters reports.

“I am concerned and disappointed by the conviction for Nessma television’s broadcast of an animated film previously approved for distribution by the Tunisian government,” Gray said.

“We understand that Mr. Karoui has the right to appeal his conviction, and we hope this case will be resolved in a manner which guarantees free expression, a basic right denied to Tunisians during the Ben Ali era,” he added.

Several people expressed anger after the announcement of the ruling.

“It’s appalling, 2,400 dinars for somebody who made a mockery of God and offended Muslim feelings,” said one man, who was in tears.

“People mock Allah and pretend that this is freedom of expression,” added a veiled woman outside the courthouse, which was guarded by police.

The trial, which opened in November 2011 and was twice postponed, roused strong feelings pitting those who argued for freedom of expression against violent extremist Muslims.

The Franco-Iranian film is Iranian director Marjane Satrapi’s adaptation of her graphic novel about growing up during Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. It won the jury prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

“Persepolis” trial resumes amid heavy security



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.

Second Mickey Mouse lawsuit falls on deaf ears

Bearded Mickey

Bearded Mickey

The second of two lawsuits against Christian media mogul Naguib Sawaris over a cartoon of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in conservative Muslim guise was dismissed Saturday by a Cairo court, Egyptian state media reported.

Ultra-conservative Islamist lawyer and parliamentarian Mamduh Ismail, who filed the complaint against the head of Orascom Telecom, told Agence France-Presse that he would appeal the latest decision.

The judge of the Cairo misdemeanor court ruled that the plaintiff was ineligible to file the religious defamation lawsuit. He sent the case back to the state prosecutor’s office for further investigation.

Sawiris, also the founder of a liberal party, reposted on Twitter a cartoon of a bearded, turbaned Mickey and girlfriend in a niqab, the face veil worn by fundamentalist Muslim women.

It was a humorous reference to the possible effect of a takeover of the country by Islamists, who now control parliament. However, Sawiris was forced to apologize following calls for a boycott of Mobinil, his cell phone service provider.

Another court dismissed a similar complaint against Sawaris last week.

In his ruling, the judge fined the plaintiff, hard-line lawyer Ali Dergham, slightly under $10 for the court’s time. The cartoon did not do any harm to the plaintiff, the judge said.

Lawmaker Mamdouh Ismail filed a complaint to the attorney-general’s office about the cartoon. An adherent of the fundamentalist Salafi sect of Islam, he repeated his contention Saturday that the cartoon was offensive and harmful.

“He posted caricatures mocking Islam, and we see this as a contempt of Islam,” Ismail said.

Sawiris used his Twitter account once again Saturday to say how grateful he is for the ruling.

“I thank God for this ruling because I feel that there is still hope,” he wrote. “Congratulations to an open, free and smiling Egypt that respects all religions.”

Egyptian court tosses lawsuit over bearded Mickey

Bearded Mickey

Bearded Mickey

An Egyptian court has dismissed one of two complaints over tweeted cartoons of a bearded Mickey Mouse and a veiled Minnie Mouse.

In June, telecommunications magnate Naguib Sawiris, a billionaire Coptic Christian, infuriated conservative Muslims with the satirical messages. Both complaints accuse Sawiris of insulting Islam.

The judge at Qasr al-Nil court dismissed the first case Tuesday, fining the plaintiff $8. The judge ruled that individuals who “lack legal standing” made the initial complaint, legal sources said.

However, a different court is slated to rule Saturday on the second case. That suit was filed by another group of lawyers, including member of parliament Mamduh Ismail, a member of the ultraconservative Salafist group of Islamists.

Sawiris tweeted images of Mickey with a full beard and wearing a traditional Islamic robe, and Minnie wearing a niqab (full-face veil) with only her eyes showing. However, her large ears and famed pink hair ribbon were visible.

After an angry response from people who said they took offsnse, Sawiris removed the pictures. He tweeted: “I apologize for those who don’t take this as a joke, I just thought it was a funny picture; no disrespect meant. I am sorry.”

Nonetheless, tens of thousands of people joined groups on Facebook and other social media condemning him. As well, conservative Muslim groups urged boycotts of the tycoon’s firms.

DWA wins suit over idea for “Kung Fu Panda” movies

"Kung Fu Panda"

"Kung Fu Panda"

A Los Angeles jury has given DreamWorks Animation the benefit of the doubt in a major lawsuit by a man who claimed the studio stole his idea for the successful Kung Fu Pandafranchise.

Self-professed “writer-producer-teacher-philospher” Terence Dunn, who was chief executive officer of Zen-Bear Inc., sued in June 2010 for breach of an implied contract. He charged that in November 2001, he submitted the concept of a “spiritual kung-fu fighting panda bear” to a DreamWorks executive, expecting that any resulting film project would include him.

Dunn claimed at one point that he deserved a percentage of the hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from the films. Starring the voice of Jack Black, the first KFP film grossed over $630 million worldwide in 2008. The successful sequel Kung Fu Panda 2 was released May 26 this year.

According to Dunn’s suit, he spoke with the studio several times before it turned down his pitch. Instead, DWA started working with screenwriters Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris on its “substantially similar” Kung Fu Panda movie in 2002.

Dunn claimed that that his kung-fu fighting bear was “adopted by five animal friends in the forest (a tiger, a leopard, a dragon, a snake and a crane), whose destiny is foretold by an old and wise sage, Turquoise Tortoise, and who comes of age and fulfills his destiny as a martial arts hero and spiritual avatar.”

At DreamWorks’ request, the discussion of damages was restricted from public view.

Eventually, the case was subject to a two-week jury trial, featuring testimony from DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

In a verdict that took about three days to reach, jurors ruled that DWA didn’t use Dunn’s ideas, so there was no question of damages.

“We intend to appeal this decision. We feel quite confident in the appeal,” said Theresa Macellaro, one of the attorneys for Dunn

“We are pleased with the decision of the jury, which supports our position that this was a baseless lawsuit,” DWA commented in a statement.

Kung Fu Panda is the subject of another lawsuit against DWA. In February, artist Jayme Gordon alleged that the studio and distributor Paramount copied the artwork for the film from “Kung Fu Panda Power,” the collective title for Gordon’s copyrighted works.

No Butts about it: South Park wins copyright suit

South Park

South Park

Making “What What (In the Butt)” the butt of a joke is fair play, a Wisconsin federal judge has ruled.

Viacom and Comedy Central were sued in November over the 2008 South Park episode Canada On Strike. Brownmark Films alleged that a scene stole from its copyrighted music video for the viral phenomenon “What What (In the Butt).”

In “Canada on Strike,” the character Butters Stotch reconstructs a silly Internet video by singer Samwell.

Downloaded over 41 million times on YouTube, Samwell’s “What What” video was featured on PerezHilton and VH1’s Best Week Ever.

Re-creating the music video amounted to copyright infringement, Brownmark claimed. But Viacom responded that its own version was a parody, and thus was allowed within “fair use” exceptions to copyright.

In a rare move, the judge affirmed “fair use” at the summary judgment phase of the action.

Anyone seeing the South Park episode will know that the show was trying “to lampoon the recent craze in our society of watching video clips on the Internet that are — to be kind — of rather low artistic sophistication and quality,” the judge added.

The judge ruled that a clip lasting under a minute in a 25-minute episode was not very substantial and would not hurt the success of the original video distributed by Brownmark.

As well, the judge observed, South Park altered “What What (In the Butt)” considerably by accomplishing “the seemingly impossible — making the WWITB video even more absurd by replacing the African-American male singer with a naive and innocent nine-year-old boy dressed in adorable outfits.”