[Marxism] Tunisian TV magnate fined for airing "Persepolis"
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 3 11:58:56 MDT 2012
Tunisian who showed ‘Persepolis’ on TV fined in free speech case
By Marc Fisher, Updated: Thursday, May 3, 12:06 PM
A panel of five Tunisian judges on Thursday convicted TV magnate
Nabil Karoui of “disturbing public order” and “threatening public
morals” by broadcasting the French movie “Persepolis,” an animated
film that contains a fleeting image of God.
Karoui was fined $1,600. Two of his staffers, including the woman
whose job it was to check the movie for moral and legal problems,
were fined $800 each. Prosecutors and lawyers representing
Islamist groups argued that the owner of Nessma TV should be
sentenced to prison for up to five years; at least two lawyers
called for the death penalty.
In a verdict posted without explanation on a courtroom wall, the
judges decided a case that had brought hundreds of Tunisian
lawyers to argue over the limits of free speech in a fledgling
democracy just 15 months after a revolution.
Lawyers for the Islamist groups that argued against Karoui’s right
to air the movie, in which a little Iranian girl fantasizes that
she is arguing with God, welcomed the verdict as a sign that
Tunisia will retain its longstanding laws that restrict speech
that some devout Muslims consider offensive.
Seifeddine Mahjoub, a lawyer who argued for a tougher penalty
against Karoui, said he was satisfied with the verdict, which he
said established that Tunisia will enforce proper boundaries on
freedom of the press.
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.”
Outside the courthouse in downtown Tunis, protesters on both sides
gathered to await the verdict. “Do not mock what is sacred for
people,” said signs carried by some Muslims who sought a stiffer
penalty for Karoui.
Karoui could not be reached for immediate comment. His lawyers had
argued that Tunisia’s new media law gives wide berth to
broadcasters and that post-revolutionary Tunisia ought to make
clear that it is a more open and tolerant society than the regime
that was just overthrown.
Before the revolution, the Tunisian government had issued a
certification approving “Persepolis” for showing in the country.
The Academy Award nominee, based on an autobiographical graphic
novel by an Iranian exile in France, had run in theaters in Tunis
for two months without incident.
But when Karoui’s station, a highly popular satellite channel that
serves all of North Africa from Tunis, showed the film just weeks
before Tunisia’s first post-revolutionary elections last fall,
angry crowds gathered outside Nessma’s studios, and a mob attacked
Karoui’s house, trashing it.
Clerics said that the movie insulted Islamic values by showing the
face of God, who is depicted in the film as an old man with a
white beard. In the scene, God persuades the young girl to act in
an honest and forthright manner.
Special correspondent Sana Ajmi in Tunis contributed to this report.
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