Verdict due in Persepolis trial – key test of free expression in Tunisia

A Tunis court is expected to issue a verdict in the prosecution of a television station broadcaster which aired the award-winning French-Iranian film Persepolis tomorrow (3 May). If convicted of “violating sacred values”, Nabil Karoui, Nessma TV’s owner and two of his employees face up to to three years in jail which ironically is also UNESCO World Press Freedom Day.

The 2007 animated film, which contains a scene where God is depicted as a white-bearded man, was broadcast  a few weeks before the October 2011 constituent assembly election. Its broadcast sparked violent protests: Nessma TV’s headquarters and Karoui’s home were attacked by ultra-conservative protesters who consider pictorial representations of God as haram (forbidden).

The court hearings were marked by tension and violence. In January, 23 journalists and activists standing in solidarity with Nessma TV were assaulted. On 19 April, and due to high tensions outside the courtroom where pro- and anti-Nessma protesters gathered, the court decided to delay issuing a verdict to 3 May.

“I hope that the court will shut this file for good, put law into practice, and put an end to this waste of time, and effort,” Sofiene Ben H’mida, a journalist for Nessma, told Index. Ben H’mida was himself assaulted by protesters showing support to the Interior Minister Ali Laarayedh on 11 January.

“The Nessma team is confident and no matter what the verdict will be, we have enough courage to continue our job”, he added.