Amnesty International have said that a Tunisian prosecution against a television boss is “reminiscent of the Ben Ali era” and is a threat to freedom of expression.
Nabil Karoui, the owner of the Nessma TV channel, has been taken to court after screening the animated film Persepolis. The trial was adjourned on Friday (20 April) ahead of an expected verdict on 3 May.
Karoui has been charged with “violating sacred values” and “disturbing the public order” after his station broadcast Persepolis, which has been criticised as blasphemous because of a scene which shows a representation of God.
The award-winning film tells the story of Iran’s 1979 revolution from the perspective of an Iranian youth. When Nessma TV aired a version translated into Tunisian dialect in October 2011 it provoked angry reactions in the country.
The home of Nabil Karoui was firebombed on 14 October following a protest outside the Nessma TV offices in central Tunis. Amnesty says that Salafist activists are believed to have carried out the attack. Karoui filed a complaint but to date Amnesty say they are not aware that anyone has been held to account.
Karoui has been charged under Article 48 of Tunisia’s old Press Code and Article 121(3) of the Penal Code relating to spreading information “that can harm public order or good morals.”
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said the trial was “disturbing” at a time “when we are looking to the Tunisian government to set an example by enshrining full respect for human rights in the country’s new constitution”.
If convicted, Karoui faces up to three years in prison, although Amnesty understands that one of the plaintiff's lawyers today asked for the application of Article 70 of the Penal Code which could allow a death sentence to be imposed.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui added, “Prosecuting and convicting people on the basis of the peaceful expression of their views, even if some might find them offensive, is totally unacceptable and not what we would expect from the new Tunisia. It’s reminiscent of the violations of the ousted Ben Ali government and must stop.”