‘Persepolis’ trial resumes in Tunisia in tense climate


The trial of the director of Tunisia’s Nessma television, accused of “insulting sacred values” for broadcasting the Iranian film “Persepolis” last October, resumed Monday in a tense climate in Tunis.

“I am sorry to be here today, this is a political trial,” Nessma’s head, Nabil Karoui, said on arrival. “It’s the trial of 10 million Tunisians who dreamed of having a democratic country.”

The court was in uproar when proceedings began, but then the trial was postponed until April.

Karoui is on trial for “insulting sacred values, offending decent morals and causing public unrest” in an affair which has led to violence and seen passions run high because in the film there is a scene showing God, who is not allowed to be portrayed in Islam.

From 9:00 a.m. (0900 GMT), insults flew outside the court building between those who supported Nessma and those who had it in for the channel. A group of bearded young Islamic radicals shouted “The people want Nessma closed down” and “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.

The defense team of the channel mobilized renowned lawyers, representatives of rights groups and non-governmental organizations and ex-political figures, including former prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi, who was applauded by Nessma’s supporters. They also sang the national anthem.

“I have come to lend my moral support to defend the freedom of expression. This is important because Tunisia is at the crossroads,” said Caid Essebsi.

He helped steer the north African country through from a public uprising that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 to an elected government and a constituent assembly.

“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 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.