Thursday, 24 May 2012

Tunisian atheist appeals conviction for publishing Muhammad cartoon

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Via Index on Censorship, we learn of an appeal in the case of two Tunisian friends who were sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail for publishing cartoons deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.

At the end of March, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, who are both atheists, were convicted by a court in the city of Mahdia of "insulting others via public communication networks”, and disseminating material that could “disturb public order". Beji has since fled the country, but an appeal was lodged on behalf of Mejri, and Index report that a verdict is expected on 28 May.

The law used to convict the two friends, Article 121 (3) of the Tunisian Penal Code, which prohibits the dissemination of material "liable to cause harm to the public order or public morals", was adopted in 2001, in what Index's Tunisian correspondent Afef Abrougui says was an attempt by the now-deposed regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to clamp down on press freedom.

For activists, it is a cause for concern that draconian laws from the era of dictatorship are still being used to curtail free speech in the new democratic Tunisia. The law used to prosecute Mejri and Beji was also used to fine a TV executive for broadcasting the film based on the graphic novel Persepolis, by the exiled Iranian author Marjane Satrapi, while Index report that an anonymous cartoonist known as "_Z_" is coming under pressure for cartoons satirising the country's ruling Islamists.

For more background, see Afef Abrougui's Index post from January this year, warning that censorship in Tunisia has taken on a religious tone.
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