A trial against Tunisia's Nessma TV television channel for screening a controversial Iranian film has been postponed to May 3.
The Tunisian judiciary on Thursday had continued hearing the case by Islamist lawyers against the Tunisian channel for screening the Iranian film "Persepolis". The film has resulted in a lot of controversy as well as outbreaks of violence for including scenes that are considered blasphemous, as it shows the film's females protagonist talking to God.
Nabil Karoui, the director of the channel was taken to court on several charges including "participation in abusing religious rites".
The trial in Tunis was marked by an intense security presence inside and outside the court. Hundreds of Salafist supporters gathered outside the court raising slogans demanding the harshest sentence for the station’s director. They accuse the channel of causing sedition, abusing the divine and Islamic sanctities.
Within two days of the film being shown, Islamic militants attacked the television station’s offices and Karoui’s own home during violent demonstrations in Tunis.
The trial opened in November 16 and has twice been adjourned.
Although Karoui has apologised for causing any offence, the case has become a cause celebre, a battleground between Islamist militants and secular, liberal elements protesting what they say is the rise of religious extremism.
One of the protesters, who refused to reveal his identity, said to Arabstoday that Nessma TV had abused Islam and crossed red lines by broadcasting the film.
"The channel is a curse on the Tunisian people, who are rooted in their Arab Islamic identity. Nessma TV's main agenda is to look for faults in Islam and criticise Muslims," said the man.
He continued by saying that the protesters were not against the freedom of media, but were entitled to "hold anyone accountable who is in the wrong". He denied that they were influenced by political parties.
The remark was apprently in subtle reference to Tunisia's ruling Ennahda party as he added that the case had been filed before the elections which brought the Ennahda-based Islamists to power.
Commenting on being subjectedand brought to trial, Nabil Karoui stated, before entering the courtroom: “It is a trial of media freedom in Tunisia after the revolution, which poses a threat on all Tunisians who claim the right of creativity without trusteeship from scholars.”
He added in a conversation with the Shems FM radio station: “Media like the Washington Post, The New York Times and France 24 and other foreign media will convey the details of trying a media outlet. This is an insult to the Tunisian revolution and this must end quickly.” He called on the Tunisian people to overcome the matter and not pay attention to the claims of "extremist protesters who are trying to influence the judiciary for their own gains".
Nessma TV has also complained that it has been deprived of its right to operate freely and denounced what it said was an attempt to silence it.
French lawyers were attending the court hearing and France’s International Federation of Human Rights has sent an observer.
Karoui also ascertained his trust in the Tunisian judiciary.
At a time in when the submitters of the lawsuit have been calling for harsh punishments against Karoui, his defence lawyers said that the film was broadcast with the explicit permission of the ministry of culture, stressing that a channel director cannot be asked to know all the content that is broadcast under his stewardship.
Shukri Bal’eed, one of the defence lawyers said that the case was false and baseless. The opponent figure, Ahmed Najib Chebbi, came to the court to support the TV station, stating that the prosecutor general referred the channel’s director to the courts on the basis of a legal text which has already been cancelled.
He told Arabstoday that the trial of Karoui was purely a scandal and that the message the new rulers are sending to the world is that |Tunisia is about to experience a deviation away from the original paths of the revolution, and there is a very dangerous despotic culture prevailing throughout the country".
Rights group Amnesty International had called on the Tunisian authorities to drop the charges against Karoui. Phillip Luther, the director Amnesty’s MENA expressed his concern about that matter
The station broadcast the award-winning animated film “Persepolis”, which tells the story of the Iranian revolution and its aftermath through the eyes of a young girl, on October 7 last year.