The Court of First Instance of Mahdia sentenced two men to seven years of prison for charges relating to their posting of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed on Facebook. The decision is subject to appeal.
According to an extract of the decision, which was posted online, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji were sentenced to five years in prison for “troubling the public” order and “transgressing morality” by posting the images of the Prophet and an additional two for “bringing harm to others” across “networks of public communications.” The two men were each levied a fine of 1,200 dinars as well.
Beji has fled to Europe to avoid facing charges while Mejri is currently in jail in Mahdia and studying his appeal with his legal representation.
Bochra Belhaj Hmida, lawyer, activist, and ex-president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, is currently involved in an effort to rally civil society against the decision. She stated that she found the decision shocking, particularly, “when one considers the fact that those in Tunisia who committed terrorist acts are free and those two men are being prosecuted for publishing such insignificant things.”
According to Belhaj Hmida, the case was brought by a lawyer in Mahdia, who complained directly to the public prosecutor in the district.
Belhaj Hmida stated that she had informed Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki of the decision and that he requested her to prepare a dossier in which all the facts of the case are contained.
“He was very interested [in the case],” she said.
The Tunisian Secretary-General of the International Federation of Human Rights (IFHR), Khadira Cherif, also expressed outrage at the judgment.
“It’s scandalous that they’ve arrested these men. We are against [the decision],” stated Cherif.
She went on to say that the IFHR would soon make a formal announcement of their position on the affair.
While the public prosecutor of Mahdia was not available for comment, a clerk at the Court of First Instance in Mahdia, Nourredine Waja, gave his personal decision on the validity of the decision.
“Freedom of expression shouldn’t go that far. It’s a more serious affair than freedom of expression. It’s an attack on our religion,” said Waja.
Waja stated that all religions should be protected from such attacks and that the same standard would be upheld for images mocking holy symbols of Christians or Jews.
A spokesperson at the Ministry of Justice was unaware of the case when contacted by Tunisia Live, and no other representative of the ministry was available for comment at the time.