(Adds U.S. criticism, quote from lawyer)
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS May 3 A Tunisian court fined a television
boss 2,400 dinars ($1,550) on Thursday for showing a film that
includes a scene depicting God, drawing U.S. criticism and
highlighting a growing divide between Islamists and secularists.
The court found Nabil Karoui, head of the private TV station
Nessma, guilty of disturbing public order and attacking moral
values by broadcasting the award-winning animated film
The film, about a girl growing up in Iran, includes a scene
depicting God, which is forbidden in Islam. It enraged some
Salafi Islamists who subsequently attacked the station.
The fine was substantially less severe than the prison term
that Karoui's Islamist opponents had demanded. The charges
carried a possible sentence of up to three years in prison.
Tunisia is struggling to balance religious sensitivities
with newfound freedom of expression nearly 18 months after its
revolution ousted veteran dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and
set off a wave of "Arab Spring" uprisings in the region.
The United States expressed disappointment at the ruling.
"His conviction raises serious concerns about tolerance and
freedom of expression in the new Tunisia," the U.S. ambassador
Gordon Gray said in a statement.
"We understand that Mr. Karoui has the right to appeal his
conviction, and we hope this case will be resolved in a manner
which guarantees free expression, a basic right denied to
Tunisians during the Ben Ali era."
Hardline Islamists, free to express their views after the
revolution ended a ban on their activities, have become
assertive in defending their faith and pushing for religion to
have a bigger role in society.
They said the broadcast of "Persepolis" was an affront to
Muslims and a deliberate provocation. Some Salafis, followers of
an ultra-conservative school of Islam, have said the television
boss should be executed.
The Islamists have clashed with secularists who believe the
values of modernity and individual freedom that shaped Tunisia
for the past half century must be preserved.
They saw the prosecution of Karoui as an attack on freedom
of expression, a position echoed by rights groups including
The ruling came on world press freedom day, which is marked
by celebration in Tunisia where freedom of expression was
curtailed under Ben Ali.
"The fact that Nabil has been fined even one dinar is an
attack on freedom of expression and creativity on world press
day," Karoui's lawyer, Abada Kefi, told Reuters.
"This day ought to have been a day of celebration for the
press ... This same law (on which Karoui was charged) was
applied during the Ben Ali era."
(Writing by Christian Lowe and Lin Noueihed; Editing by Kevin