Tunisian TV chief in court for blasphemy

Rebecca Hawkes | 19-11-2011

The head of Nessma TV has appeared in court in Tunis on charges of "undermining sacred values, undermining decent standards and causing trouble to public order."

The case, which has been brought against Nabil Karoui and two of his employees by 140 lawyers, follows the broadcast by his private TV station of the film Persepolis on 7 October.

The animated film, based on Marjane Strapi's novel about the 1979 revolution in Iran, offended many Muslims because in one scene it depicts God as an old man with a beard. Literal images of God are forbidden by Islam.

Karoui apologised for the scene, but anger at its transmission erupted into street demonstrations in the Tunisian capital last month, culminating in Karoui's home being firebombed.

"I feel an immense sadness because the people who wanted to destroy the channel are free and I am here because I broadcast a film," Karoui said on arrival in court.

He told AFP that he will plead not guilty to the charges. The hearing, in a packed Tunis courtroom on 17 November, was adjourned after an hour's debate. Some lawyers argued the proceedings should be broadcast.

The case will resume in Tunis on 23 January 2012.

Nabil Karoui, the owner of Tunisian television station Nessma, arrives for a hearing at a court in Tunis, 17 November 2011
Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi