By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
TUNIS, Tunisia – On Monday, 23 January, a Tunisian court delayed the case against Nessma TV for airing the award-winning French-Iranian film “Persepolis” for insulting Islam until 19 April. The judges will now consider the new press code adopted after the overthrow of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Over 140 lawyers filed suit against Nessma TV’s station director Nabil Karoui and several of the station’s workers. The court charged them with “attacks against sacred values and morals and disturbing the public order.” Karoui could serve three years in jail if he receives a conviction. His lawyers already stated they would appeal that verdict.
When Karoui arrived at the courthouse, he said it was a political trial, a “trial of 10 million Tunisians who dreamed of having a democratic country.”
The film depicts Tunisia’s challenges of implementing Islamic values into society after years of government-enforced secularism. After the Tunisian television station showed the film on 7 October, ultraconservative Muslims, called Salafis, engaged in angry demonstrations and firebombed the station owner’s home.
Recipient of the jury prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, “Persepolis” adapted Iranian director Marjane Satarpi’s graphic novels portraying a girl’s childhood during Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The animated film, dubbed in a Tunisian dialect, contains a scene where a character represents God. Islam deems depictions of God blasphemous.
The trial began on 17 November, but the judge adjourned the matter until January once lawyers began arguing inside the courtroom. On Monday, large crowds demonstrated outside the courtroom in support of Nessma TV and the Salafis.
The Salafis chanted, “Secularists, you have no place in Tunisia”. Demonstrator Mohammed Chammam added, “If the people of Nessma do not return to the right path, their activities will be halted by any means necessary, including violence.”
However, several major Tunisian figures visited the courthouse to support the television station, including lawyers, human rights activists, non-governmental organizations, and ex-political leaders. Amnesty International and Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights also called upon the Tunisian government to end the trial.
Ben Ali enforced secularism and persecuted Islamists until the people overthrew him in January 2011. Throughout the past year, a small group of Salafists began promoting Islam’s ultraconservative form. Two weeks after the film aired, Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party that does not hold the Salafists’ extreme ideology, dominated Tunisia’s elections.
Mohamed Bennour, the Ettakatol Party’s spokesperson, said, “The Tunisian people revolted to eradicate all types of censorship. This trial is an influential battle that will decide the future of freedom of expression and personal freedoms in Tunisia.”
For further information, please see:
The National – Trial Of Tunisian TV Station Owner Accused Of Offending Islam Postponed – 24 Jan 2012
Al Arabiya News – ‘Persepolis’ Trial Resumes In Tunisia In Tense Climate – 23 Jan 2012
Boston Globe – Tense Tunisia ‘Persepolis’ Trial Delayed To April – 23 Jan 2012
Tunisia Live – Trial Postponed for Tunisia TV Station Owner Responsible for ‘Persepolis’ Airing – 23 Jan 2012