A panel of five Tunisian judges Thursday convicted TV magnate Nabil Karoui of “disturbing public order” and “threatening public morals” by broadcasting the French movie “Persepolis,” an animated film that contains a fleeting image of God.
Karoui was fined $1,600. Two members of his staff, including the woman whose job it was to check the movie for moral and legal problems, were each fined $800. Prosecutors and lawyers representing Islamist groups argued that the owner of Nessma TV should be sentenced to prison for up to five years. At least two lawyers called for the death penalty.
In a verdict posted without explanation on a courtroom wall, the judges decided a case that had brought hundreds of Tunisian lawyers to argue over the limits of free speech in a fledgling democracy just 15 months after a revolution.
Lawyers for the Islamist groups that argued against Karoui’s right to air the movie, in which a little Iranian girl fantasizes that she is arguing with God, welcomed the verdict as a sign that Tunisia will retain its long-standing laws that restrict speech that some devout Muslims consider offensive.