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Tunisia’s Court of Cassation yesterday failed to review the seven-and-a-half year sentence of Jabeur Mejri, who was convicted last year of publishing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad on Facebook. Mejri’s lawyer, Mohammed Mselmi, told AFP that the demand for an appeal “was mysteriously withdrawn”, even though a hearing had been scheduled on 25 April. The defence team will now seek a presidential pardon for their client.
Last March, a primary court in Mahdia (eastern Tunisia) sentenced Mejri and his friend Ghazi Beji to seven and half years in prison. Beji, who published a satirical book entitled “the illusion of Islam” online, fled Tunisia. Mejir, however, has been in prison since he was arrested on 5 March 2012.
Both men were fined 1,200 dinars (GBP £480) and sentenced to five years in prison for publishing content “liable to cause harm to the public order” under article 121 (3) of the Tunisian Penal Code. They each received a two-year jail term for “offending others through public communication networks” (article 86 of the Telecommunications Code), and another six months for “moral transgression.”
On 25 June 2012, the Monastir Court of Appeal upheld Mejri’s conviction.
On 23 April 2013, a committee supporting the two young men published a letter from Mejri, written in his prison cell in Mahdia, in which he claims he has been subject to torture. Mejri wrote:
There’s no freedom of expression here in Tunisia, it is dead…I am forbidden from medicines to cure my illness and from other rights. Seven years and six months is a long period to spend within a dark and gloomy small place. Officers find pleasure to torture me [sic]”
The Monastir appeal court has upheld a primary verdict in Tunisia’s Muhammad cartoon case.
In March, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji were sentenced to 7-and-a-half years in prison over the publishing of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad , and books criticising Islam. Mejri appealed the verdict, but Beji, who was sentenced in absentia fled to Europe.
Defence lawyer Ahmed Msalmi described today’s ruling as “severe”, and “incompatible with human rights”. “Such a severe verdict can be considered a form of torture,” Mslami told AFP.
“The defendant suffers from behaviour disorders, and there are also social conditions that need to be take into account”, he added.
The court had previously refused the defence team’s request to examine Mejri’s mental state.
Monastir Appeal Court has once again postponed issuing a verdict in the case of Jabeur Mejri. On 28 March, a primary court sentenced Mejri along with his friend Ghazi Beji to seven and a half years in prison for publishing cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad. Meji is currently serving his jail sentence, while Beji is now in exile after fleeing the country to avoid persecution.
Defence lawyer Bochra Bel Haji Hmida told Index that Mejri is to be examined in order to determine whether or not he is mentally stable.
Bel Haji Hmida also said that according to Mejri’s family, he has begun to pray to God. “I do not know if it is out of weakness, or if he is convinced,” said the lawyer.
“He is suffering; he faces enormous pressure. His family has received death threats”, she added.
Previously, Mejri reportedly told police that he “does not suffer from any mental disorder” and that the cartoons he published on his Facebook profile page reflect his “beliefs”. When interrogated by police, he said “I do admit that I had published cartoons, and expressions offensive to the prophet…Such acts reflect my beliefs as I do not recognise the Islamic religion, and I am an atheist”.
The next appeal session will take place on 4 June.