Tunisia: Verdict delayed in Persepolis case

A Tunis court today delayed issuing a verdict on Nabil Karoui, general director of Nessma TV, a privately-owned television station, and two of his employees, until 19 April. The three are accused of “violating sacred values” and “disturbing the public order,” for airing the French-Iranian film, Persepolis.

The broadcast of Persepolis, which contains a scene where god is depicted as a white-bearded man, sparked a wave of protests in October. The home of Karoui, as well as the headquarters of Nessma TV were attacked following the broadcast. Depictions of god and religious figures are prohibited in Sunni Islam. If convicted, Karoui could face up to three years in prison. “This is a trial of freedom of expression”, he said as he entered court today.

A few dozen protesters from the extreme right gathered outside the court chanting “Karoui, you coward, the religion of Allah should not be humiliated,” and “the people want the fall of the TV station.”

Employees of Nessma, activists, politicians, artists, and citizens also gathered outside the hearing room, to show their support to the TV station in particular, and defend freedom of speech, in general.

Mrs Kadour, a university teacher, described the trial as being “shameful… political and exaggerated” and said that it was unacceptable “to judge people for their ideas.”

Mounira Laajimi, one of the 144 lawyers that filed complaints against the station, deemed the “timing” of the film’s broadcast as “inappropriate,” as it was shown a few weeks before the 2011 elections. “It caused public disorder just before the elections” she added.

On 20 January, Amnesty International demanded that Tunisian authorities drop the charges against Karoui. “Putting Nabil Karoui on trial simply for screening a film which shows fantasy scenes of God is a very troubling development,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s interim Director for Middle East and North Africa.

“The Tunisian authorities must uphold Nabil Karoui’s right to freedom of expression and drop these charges immediately,” he added. The trial is closely watched by free speech advocates, as it is going to indicate to which extent religion imposes restrictions on freedom of speech, in post revolution Tunisia.

Tunisia: Broadcast of ‘Persepolis’ prompts protest

Hundreds of protesters have attacked a private television company in Tunisia in protest over the broadcast of the award winning film “Persepolis.” The protesters, who believe that the animated film denigrates Islam, attacked the TV station Nessma in Tunisia’s capital on Sunday. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd and made 40 arrests. The film, which is about the 1979 Iranian revolution, was aired on Friday. Following the broadcast, according to Nebil Karoui, the head of Nessma, messages appeared on Facebook calling for the station to be burned down and its journalists killed.