A Tunisian court on Thursday imposed a 2,400-dinar ($1,700) fine on a television boss over blasphemy charges after a trial that deepened the division between Islamists and secularists.
A Nessma technician and another station official were both fined 1,200 dinars.
The director of Nessma television is accused of insulting sacred values by screening the film “Persepolis,” which showed depictions of God.
Nabil Karoui was charged over the decision by his Nessma television station to broadcast the award-winning animated film that includes a scene depicting Allah, which is forbidden in Islam.
Karoui, who was not in court for the judgement, has described his case as a key test for freedom of expression in Tunisia, which remains in flux following the January 2011 revolution that toppled an entrenched dictatorship and sparked the Arab Spring.
“Persepolis” is a cartoon film directed by comic book writer Marjane Satrapi that tells the story of the Iranian revolution and the Islamic regime of Ayotollah Ruhollah Khomeiny through the eyes of a precocious young girl.
The defense said it plans to appeal against the verdict.
“This verdict is an affront to the freedom of the press. We hoped for a straightforward acquittal on this World Press Freedom Day,” defense lawyer Abada Kefi told AFP.
“Mr Karoui should have been sentenced to three to six months in prison in light of the charges,” prosecution lawyer Rafik Ghak countered, adding he would investigate the option of an appeal.
Several people expressed anger after the announcement of the ruling.
“It’s appalling, 2,400 dinars for somebody who made a mockery of God and offended Muslim feelings,” said one man, who was in tears.
“People mock Allah and pretend that this is freedom of expression,” added a veiled woman outside the courthouse, which was guarded by police.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that the choice of Press Freedom Day for a hearing was no coincidence and gave the authorities the chance for a “positive image”.
The media watchdog had asked for the charges to be dropped and called on the judiciary to cease trying such cases on the basis of repressive laws dating from Ben Ali’s era.
Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights both monitored the trial.
The broadcast by Nessma TV on October 7 led to a wave of anger and violence, two weeks before Tunisia’s elections.
Groups of Islamic extremists tried on October 9 to attack the headquarters of the channel in Tunis and then turned their wrath on Karoui’s house a few days later.
Young Islamic radicals have asked for “Nessma to close down” and shouted during public protests “You, media cowards, know that religion mustn’t be defamed.”
Their opponents argued that they were defending the freedom of expression in a trial that was a test of Tunisia’s youthful democracy.
Nessma’s head, Nabil Karoui had earlier said in January at the opening of his hearing: “I am sorry to be here today, this is a political trial.
It’s the trial of 10 million Tunisians who dreamed of having a democratic country.”