Tunisian Court Says No To Persepolis

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Persepolis

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.

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