Tunisian court fines TV boss over morality
Published Thursday, May 3, 2012
A Tunisian court on Thursday fined a television boss 2,400 dinars (US$1,550) for showing a controversial film following a trial that has caused concerns about an extremist Salafi push to limit free speech.
The court found Nabil Karoui, head of the Nessma private television station, guilty of disturbing public order and attacking moral values by broadcasting the award-winning animated film "Persepolis."
The French/American film, about a girl growing up in Iran, includes a scene depicting Allah, which is forbidden in Islam.
The fine was substantially less severe than the prison term that Karoui's Islamist opponents had been demanding. The charges carried a possible sentence of up to three years in prison.
The trial showed how, nearly 18 months after its revolution sparked the "Arab Spring" upheavals, Tunisia is struggling to balance religious sensitivities and freedom of expression.
Hard-line Islamists, newly free to express their views after the revolution ended a ban on their activities, have become assertive in pushing for religion to have a bigger role in society.
They said the broadcast of "Persepolis" was an affront to Muslims and a deliberate provocation. Some Salafis, followers of an extremist brand of Islam, have said the television boss should be executed.
The Salafi campaign created a storm in Tunisia, with President Moncef Marzouki lashing out at Salafis earlier this week, calling them a threat to democracy.
"We’re going to face some hard issues, like the Salafi movement, you know – that it's extremely pro-right wing movement here in Tunisia and they are really...they can be a danger to democracy and we have to tackle the problem from the political point of view, we have to discuss with them and so forth," the interim president said on Julian Assange's Russia Today chat show, aired Tuesday.
“Some of them are not accepting to have any kind of political discussion and some of them are going to present a kind of threat against democracy,” he added.
Salafis have clashed with secularists who believe the values of modernity and individual freedom that shaped Tunisia for the past half century must be preserved.
They saw the prosecution of Karoui as an attack on freedom of expression, a position echoed by rights groups including Amnesty International.