Tunisian prophet cartoonist urges presidential pardon

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A young Tunisian man given seven years in jail for posting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on the Internet has petitioned President Moncef Marzouki for a pardon, his lawyer and relatives said Saturday.

Jabbeur Mejri “prefers to stop court proceedings against him, and hopes instead to be granted a presidential pardon,” defense lawyer Ahmed Mselmi told AFP.

Mejri’s sister Ines confirmed that the 28-year-old had sent a request to Marzouki asking to be pardoned.

“He told us that he regrets his action,” she said.

Mejri and his co-defendant Ghazi Beji, who fled abroad and whose whereabouts are unknown, were sentenced at a closed hearing in March 2012 to seven and half years in jail for “publishing works likely to disturb public order” and “offence to public decency”.

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

The verdict, which was upheld at an appeals trial three months later, is now being reviewed in Tunisia’s highest court, which can either uphold the ruling or send the case back to an appeals court for retrial.

The case has stirred up controversy in Tunisia, with secular opposition groups and human rights activists arguing that the defendants were convicted for a “crime of conscience.”

Critics of the Islamist party Ennahda, which heads the coalition government, have repeatedly accused it of seeking to Islamize society and of using religion to stifle freedom of expression.

Mejri’s support group has also called on the president to pardon the pair.