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Convictions over Persepolis screening show Tunisia's 'failure' on free expression rights

A Tunis court’s decision today to fine a TV boss for “spreading information which can disturb the public order” after he screened the animated French movie “Persepolis” is a sign of the continuing erosion of free speech in Tunisia, Amnesty International has said.

Nabil Karoui was fined 2,400 Tunisian Dinar (approximately £950) after his station broadcast the Persepolis dubbed into Tunisian Arabic dialect in October 2011. The film was criticised for being blasphemous because of a scene showing a representation of God. Karoui’s lawyers have confirmed that he will be appealing against the verdict.

Two others have also been found guilty of participating in the crime: Nadia Jamal, head of the organisation that dubbed the movie into Tunisian dialect, and Alhadi Boughanim, responsible for monitoring programmes. Both have also been fined.

Meanwhile other people in Tunisia have been found guilty recently on similar charges. For example, the editor of Arabic daily “Attounissia” was found guilty of “spreading information which can disturb the public order” on 8 March and fined 1,000 Tunisian Dinar. The daily had published a photograph of a German-Tunisian football player and his girlfriend who appears naked with his hand covering her breasts.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison said:

“On a day that is meant to celebrate world press freedom, Tunisia has shown its failure to respect the basic right of freedom of expression.

“Nabil Karoui should not have been tried to begin with, let alone found guilty for exercising his right to peacefully express his views.

“At a time when Tunisia should be leading the way by showing its commitment to free and open debate and setting an example in its respect for human rights, it is disappointing to see the authorities resorting to these tactics to repress freedom of expression.”

The convictions come amid growing complaints against what is seen as the government’s lack of will to implement freedom of the press and other media. Journalists and activists in the country have criticised the government for not enforcing new press and audio-visual laws passed in November which amend repressive provisions found in the old Press Law. Instead, the authorities are resorting to articles in the Penal Code - such as “spreading information that disturbs the public order” - to prosecute journalists and others for peacefully expressing their opinions. The failure to implement the new laws is widely regarded as an attempt by the government to control and restrict the media.

A report issued by the National Committee of Information and Communication Reform last month highlights the problems that continue to face the media sector and the need for reform.

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