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In Tunisia, Show Persepolis and Get Fined

In early May, a panel of five Tunisian judges Thursday convicted TV magnate Nabil Karoui of “disturbing public order” and “threatening public morals” by broadcasting the French animated movie Persepolis, based on the acclaimed graphic novel Marjane Satrapi.  Karoui was fined $1,600 while two members of his staff were each fined $800.  Prosecutors and lawyers representing Islamist groups felt they should be sentenced up to five years and a few even called for the death penalty.

The verdict was posted on a courtroom wall and the judges felt the case had brought out many to argue over the limits of free speech in a fledgling democracy just 15 months after a revolution.  Some felt the decision was a sign that the country would still limit speech that devout Muslims consider offensive and showed boundaries for the freedom of the press.

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.  His conviction raises serious concerns about tolerance and freedom of expression in the new Tunisia.

Interestingly enough before the revolution, the Tunisian government had issued a certification approving Persepolis for showing in the country.  Clerics felt the movie insulted Muslim values because it shows the face of God during a scene where he talks to the main character in the movie.