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Tunisia: TV Station Chief Sued for Broadcasting ‘Persepolis’

On May 3, 2012, Tunisian courts will announce the verdict in the trial of Nabil Karoui, owner of the private channel Nessma TV, who has been prosecuted for broadcasting the animated film Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Scenes in the film depict God visiting in a dream and appearing in human form. The broadcast created a lot of anger, and a complaint was filed by 144 lawyers and others. The trial was delayed many times, but the verdict will be announced on May 3 – which is World Press Freedom Day. If convicted, Karoui faces up to three years in prison.

Persepolis was broadcast at around the same time that Ennahda won a majority of seats in parliament, and some saw it as a political statement associating Tunisia with Iran, and a warning for Tunisians to “stay moderate and vigilant”.

Nabil Karoui talking to journalists in front of the courthouse in Tunis. Photo by machhad.com (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

In a blog post entitled “Nessma Trial: Luckily the Ridiculous Doesn't Kill” [fr], blogger and activist Lina Ben Mhenni commented on the trial proceedings:

Maître Raja Haj Mansour a été la première avocate de la partie civile à donner un plaidoyer comique dans lequel elle a expliqué que son fils a fait trois nuits blanches successives après avoir regardé le film “Persepolis” et que c'est lui qui lui a demandé de porter plainte contre Nabil Karoui. Par la suite d'autres avocats ont donné des plaidoyers dignes du Moyen-Age.

Raja Haj Mansour was the first lawyer for the plaintiff to give a comic plea in which she explained that her son had had three successive sleepless nights after watching the film “Persepolis”, and it was he who asked her to sue Nabil Karoui. Subsequently other lawyers provided arguments worthy of the Middle Ages.

Myriam Meziou joked:

@myriammeziou: le fils de Raja mansour a eu une crise car il a vu persepolis!!!! que va-t-il lui arriver qd il regardera son 1er Porno? #nessma

The son of Raja Mansour had an emotional crisis because he saw Persepolis!!!! What will happen to him when he watches his first porno? #nessma

Doctor and politician Zeineb Turki wrote:

@ZeinebTurki: Il est utile de rappeler qu'il ne s'agit pas du procès de #nessma ni de celui de #Persepolis mais celui de la liberté d'expression

It's useful to remember that this is not about the trial of #nessma nor that of #Persepolis but of the freedom of expression

From Paris, Anissa B. tweeted:

@beautifultango7: Verdict due today in #Persepolis trial. Key test of freedom of speech in #Tunisia. #NessmaTV

The following video from Nawaat features protests against the broadcast of Persepolis:

UPDATE: Nabil Karoui has been fined [fr] 2,400 dinars (1200 euros). His lawyer will appeal.

Some reactions:

@HouyemTN: Condamner le film #Persepolis en taxant Nabil Karoui, quelle décision honteuse. Vive la #liberteDexpression. #Nessma #Tunisie

Condemning the film Persepolis by fining Nabil Karoui, what a shameful decision. Long live freedom of expression.

@Artkore_: 2400 DT… C'est le prix de la Libérté d'expression ? Faites Des Réserves #Nessma #freepress

2400 dinars… This is the price of freedom of speech? Start saving.

@FelFel_: Bref, je pense que le verdict est “un joli” compromis. #NessmaTrial

Briefly, I think the verdict is a “pretty” compromise.

@Out__rage: Dans l'affaire #Nessma, tout le monde s'en sort. Sauf la liberté d'expression. C'est seulement le début de l'agonie chers compatriotes.

In the Nessma case, everyone comes out well. Except for freedom of expression. This is only the beginning of the agony, dear compatriots.

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