[Marxism] Tunisian TV magnate fined for airing "Persepolis"

Louis Proyect 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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