Jailed Tunisian loses appeal over Facebook Prophet cartoons

AFP, Tuesday 26 Jun 2012

Tunisian jailed in March for publishing cartoons of Prophet Mohammed on Facebook lost his appeal Monday, amid surge of 'morality' cases since Islamist party dominated post-revolution elections

A Tunisian who was jailed in March for seven years for publishing cartoons of Prophet Mohammed on his Facebook page lost his appeal Monday, a court source said.

Jabeur Mejri and another young Tunisian were sentenced to seven and half years imprisonment for "transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order."

Mejri's co-defendant is believed to be in hiding in Europe.

The pair are accused of posting pictures of the Prophet "in the nude" on the their Facebook pages and others slandering prominent Tunisian figures.

"We are aware of how important it is to respect sacred values but this ruling is particularly harsh and not consistent with human rights," the young man's lawyer, Ahmed Msalmi, told AFP. He said he might consider taking the appeal a notch higher to cassation, the last court of appeals in the country.

"Such a harsh judgment can be considered a form of torture," he said, also deploring that the court rejected a defence request for Mejri to undergo medical tests.

"The accused is mentally unstable and his social background should also be taken into consideration," the lawyer said, explaining that Mejri had been without a job for six years.

The number of trials on charges of transgressing morality has surged since the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) party won Tunisia's first post-revolution polls in October last year. Tunisia's uprising, which started with protests against unemployment and the cost of living, culminated with longtime president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali's ouster and inspired the so-called Arab Spring wave of revolts in the region.

Other high-profile "moral transgression" cases in Tunisia include a newspaper editor who was in March fined for printing a nude photo, and the trial of a private television channel director who broadcast a supposedly blasphemous film.

The latest case came earlier this month when Salafists rioted over an art exhibition that included a painting showing a naked woman with bearded men and another work spelling the word "Allah" with a file of ants.

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