April 20, 2012 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Nessma TV trial adjourned until controversial date

After several postponements, Nessma TV owner Nabil Karoui’s trial on charges of causing offence by broadcasting the Franco-Iranian animated film Persepolis last October resumed yesterday before a Tunis court. The film, which contains a portrayal of God, triggered violent demonstrations by Tunisia’s Salafists when it was screened last October.

Opposition leaders, national constituent assembly representatives, Tunisian and foreign human rights activists, and many lawyers and journalists went to the court in show of support for Nessma TV. Reporters Without Borders, which is calling for Karoui’s acquittal, also attended.

At the end of yesterday’s hearing, the court announced that it would issue its verdict on 3 May, when activities to mark World Press Freedom Day are to be organized under UNESCO’s aegis in Tunis.

“The decision by the judges to issue their verdict on 3 May does not seem to a coincidence and raises questions,” Reporters Without Borders said. “From the outset, this trial has has a political character. It must not now be used by the authorities to spruce up their image on World Press Freedom Day.”

Two days after Nessma TV broadcast Persepolis on 7 October, around 300 people tried to storm the TV’s stations premises and then, the next day, 144 lawyers filed a complaint against the station. Both the attack and the complaint were condemned by Reporters Without Borders at the time.

The complaint is based on articles 44 and 48 of the former media law and article 121-3 of the criminal code, which says that: “The distribution, sale or public display – or the possession with the intent to distribute, sell or display for a propaganda purpose – of leaflets, newsletters or stickers, whether of foreign origin or not, likely to disturb public order and decency, is forbidden.”

The complaint also cites articles 226 and 226 (b) of the criminal code, which punish “causing offence to religions,” “public outrage,” “gross indecency” and “affront to public decency and morality.”

Reporters Without Borders calls for the withdrawal of all the charges against Nessma TV, just as it calls for the dismantling of the legislative arsenal developed under former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to gag the media, and calls for the implementation of the new media law, decree law 115.

“The articles on which this complaint is based are no longer applicable because decree law 115 has taken effect,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By modifying the charges on which the prosecution is based, the judges would have a unique opportunity to give the new press law the force it deserves.”

Karoui’s trial has had a high profile but the media have paid much less attention to other cases that have produced rulings harmful for freedom of expression and media freedom.

Photo : Reuters / Anis Mili