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Tunisian court delays appeal for ‘blasphemous’ cartoon

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A court hearing of the appeal of a Tunisian young man sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for publishing cartoons of Prophet Mohammed will resume next Monday, according to one of his lawyers.

“We made a request for our client’s medical assessment because we want to prove that he suffers from psychological problems,” Bochra Bel Haj Hamida, told AFP, adding that the court will respond to their request on Monday.

“In any case, we are going to ask for a dismissal of this case,” she said.

On March 28, a primary court in the coastal city of Mahdia, sentenced Jabeur Mejri to seven-and-a-half years in prison and a fine of 1,200 dinars (around $800) for publishing blasphemous content on social networks.

His friend, Ghazi Béji, was sentenced the same but is believed to be absconding in Europe, according to his family.

Mejri, who has been imprisoned for two months, remained silent during the hearing on Monday morning at the appeal court of the city of Monastir, his sister Ines told AFP.

His case, which received scant media attention, has recently galvanized seven defense lawyers and representatives of human rights organizations, such Lawyers Without Borders.

“[The hearing] was crowded which was a sign of optimism for the family,” lawyer Hamida said.

Blasphemy is considered a social taboo in Tunisia and may explain why the two men’s case received little attention.

Initially, no lawyer wanted to take the case and the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed were considered “violent” and “shocking” even by some of the accused men’s supporters.

Tunisian bloggers were the first to shed light on the men’s case in early April.

Human Rights Watch had called for the abolition of some laws dating from the era of former president Zein Abidine Ben Ali which they argue have allowed the sentencing of the two young men.