1-25-2012By Pamela Kling Takiff
Fighting Discrimination Program
Yesterday, outside the Tunisian courthouse where TV executive Nabil Karoui was on trial for blasphemy, extremists attacked the people rallying in his support. Karoui, the owner of a television station in Tunis, is charged with “violating sacred values” and “disturbing public order” for airing Persepolis, the award-winning animated film about the 1979 Iranian revolution that depicts God as a bearded old man. The attackers believe that the film violates Islamic values forbidding the depiction of God.
This is not the first time that the Karoui case has sparked violence. In October 2011, a mob of more than 100 individuals armed with knives and Molotov cocktails attacked Karoui’s home, breaking windows and tearing out gas pipes. Elsewhere in the city, as many as 1,000 anti-Karoui protestors attempted to break into the offices of the Prime Minster, and the police responded with tear gas.
If Karoui is convicted, he faces a prison sentence of three to five years. His trial has been adjourned until April 19.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has condemned the most recent violence and affirmed his commitment to freedom of expression. But the government should do more: it should prosecute the perpetrators of violence and repeal the country’s blasphemy law.
Human Rights First will continue to follow this case and other cases involving the abuse of blasphemy laws. In our report Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Criminalization of Defamation of Religions, we documented more than 100 such cases in 18 countries, which show that governments use blasphemy laws to persecute religions minorities and political opponents.