For Immediate Release: May 4, 2012
New York City – Yesterday, a Tunisian court rendered its decision in the divisive case against Nabil Karoui, a broadcast executive accused of blasphemy after his TV station aired Persepolis. While Karoui was not sentenced to prison the case exposes the problem of vaguely written laws that can be used to undermine and threaten freedom of expression in post-revolutionary Tunisia.
“While the ruling could have been much worse and we are relieved that Karoui did not receive a prison sentence, ultimately this was not a positive verdict for freedom of expression,” said Human Rights First’s Pamela Kling Takiff. “Unfortunately, while vague, sweeping laws remain on the books, cases like this will persist. We encourage the Tunisian parliament to revise its laws to protect freedom of expression, as it is obliged to by international treaty, and to end the possibility for such divisive suits to be brought in the future.”
Persepolis is an award winning animated French film in which the 1979 Iranian revolution is viewed through the eyes of a young girl. In the film, God is portrayed as a bearded old man. Some Muslims believe that images depicting God in human form are blasphemous and should be forbidden. Karoui, who faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison, has been ordered to pay 2,400 dinars ($1700) for “broadcasting a film that disturbs public order and threatens proper morals.” Two members of his staff were also fined.
Following the October 2011 airing of the film, an angry mob attempted to break into the offices of the Prime Minister while others set fire to the offices of Nessma TV station. Karoui’s home was also attacked by men with knives and Molotov cocktails who broke windows and tore out gas pipes.
Human Rights First documented this and more than 100 other cases involving the abuse of laws to combat alleged blasphemy in our recently updated report Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Criminalization of Defamation of Religions.