Conviction of Tunisian TV Station Owner Is Affront to Free Expression | Freedom House

Conviction of Tunisian TV Station Owner Is Affront to Free Expression

Washington, D.C.

The conviction today in a Tunisian court of Nabil Karoui, owner of national television network Nessma TV, sends a chilling message on World Press Freedom Day that, despite Tunisia’s historic accomplishments since the country’s 2011 revolution, freedom of expression in the country is not yet fully respected.
 
Nabil Karoui, along with Nessma TV’s programming director Hedi Boughnim, had been charged with “blasphemy” and “disturbing public order” for broadcasting the film Persepolis on October 7, 2011, just weeks before Tunisia held the first free election in its history.  In the verdict, Karoui was fined 2,400 Dinars ($1,500) for the charge of “disturbing public order,” while Nedia Jamal, a translator for the film and president of the civil society organization “The Voice of the Children,” was fined 1,200 Dinars.
 
“The right of free expression is not an occasional right, or one of convenience,” said Courtney Radsch, senior program manager for the Global Freedom of Expression Campaign at Freedom House.  “The right for individuals to express themselves freely is a fundamental and internationally enshrined right that must be upheld in all cases, and this decision is an affront to this basic principle.”
 
Ironically, the film Persepolis—based on a graphic novel by Iranian-French author Marjane Satrapi— traces the story of Satrapi’s youth against the backdrop of the cultural repression that began with the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. In the film, the figure of god is depicted—considered a taboo in Islam—and when it was broadcast in Tunisia, Salafist protestors set fire to Nessma TV’s offices and the home of Karoui.
 
Despite the verdict’s small monetary penalty, the decision sets a dangerous precedent in Tunisia, particularly in light of recent physical attacks against journalists and court cases against other free expression activists. “It rings hollow that a television station was convicted of “disturbing order” for broadcasting a film, while the perpetrators of the violence that followed remain uncharged,” said Fathi Zabaar, director of Freedom House’s office in Tunisia.
 
Many have expressed severe concerns about deteriorating conditions in Tunisia for free expression. In February, publishers from the journal Attounsia were arrested for printing a “near-nude” photograph, while in March two bloggers were sentenced to 7-years in prison for “violation of morality” and “disturbing public order” after posting online articles critical of Islam.

Tunisia is ranked “Partly Free” in Freedom in the World 2012, was upgraded to “Partly Free” in Freedom of the Press 2012, which was released this week, and was ranked “Not Free” in Freedom on the Net 2011.

Learn More:

Freedom in the World 2012: Tunisia
Freedom of the Press 2011: Tunisia
Freedom on the Net 2012: Tunisia

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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