Tunisia: Journalist accused of filming Nessma TV trial faces fine

On Sunday, 13 February, the Tunis court of first instance ordered Cheker Besbes, a journalist for the private radio station Mosaique FM, to pay a fine of 200 dinars (around GBP £82), for allegedly videotaping a hearing in trial of Nessma TV employees. The TV station’s general director and two staff are accused of ““violating sacred values”  by showing French-Irianian film Persepolis, which includes images of Allah.

Besbes admits he had a camera with him in the courtroom, but denies videotaping the hearing. “Besides,” he said in an interview with the blog collective Nawaat.org, “there is no law that prohibits entering the courtroom with a camera. Using it is indeed illegal, but in my case it did not happen.”

Besbes insists that the court punished him without even checking his camera’s footage. “They have condemned me for filming inside the courtroom, without taking the legal procedures to find out if I did so or not”, he said.

Justice Minister Nourreddine Bhiri’s decision to ban filming of the trial came as a surprise to journalists, who had been allowed to film previous trials, among them the trial in absentia of former President Zeine El Abidin Ben Ali and the first session in the hearing of the Nessma TV case.

Nabil Karoui, general director of Nessma TV, a privately-owned television station, and two of his employees are accused of “violating sacred values” and “disturbing the public order” for broadcasting the French-Iranian film Persepolis.

Besbes and his lawyers referred the case to the Court of Cassation, Tunisia’s highest court.

“The problem is not whether the fine of 200 dinars represents a considerable proportion of my salary,” said Besbes. “We are against the sentence and I have decided along with my lawyers to take the case to the cassation court. We were expecting a non-suit, because I’m innocent,” he told Nawaat.