by Betsy Gomez
After a delayed trial, a panel of five judges convicted Nabil Karoui, the director of Tunisia’s Nessma television channel, of “disturbing public order” and “threatening public morals” for airing Persepolis, the animated film version of Marjane Satrapi’s acclaimed graphic novel. The film has a brief depiction of God, which is considered offensive by many Muslims. Karoui has been fined the equivalent of $1,600 and two members of his staff, who played a role in the airing of the film, were each fined $800.
Lawyers for several Islamist groups had called for tougher penalties, ranging from a 5-year prison term to the death penalty. The airing of the film led to violent demonstrations, several of which attempted to shut down the television station, and the verdict was greeted by protestors on both sides. Marc Fisher with The Washington Post covered the verdict, and wrote about the implications for Free Speech in Tunisia:
One of Karoui’s attorneys, Abada Kefi, said he had “hoped that today would be a celebration of freedom of expression and media here in Tunisia, but this is rather an occasion for mourning. This decision is a strike against creativity and freedom of expression.” He said Karoui would appeal Chief Judge Faouzi Jebali’s ruling to a higher court.
The U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, Gordon Gray, issued a statement condemning the decision. “I am concerned and disappointed by this conviction for Nessma television’s broadcast of an animated film previously approved for distribution by the Tunisian government,” Gray said. “His conviction raises serious concerns about tolerance and freedom of expression in the new Tunisia.”
You can read the rest of Fisher’s story here.