Tunisia accused the United States of interfering in the country’s judicial system after U.S. Ambassador Gordon Gray criticized the guilty verdict in the blasphemy trial of a Tunisian television executive.
Mr. Gray also warned that the verdict in the trial of Nabil Karoui, head of the private Nessma TV station, also undermined the reforms for which Tunisians fought last year when they overthrew autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring revolutions.
A court imposed a fine of $1,700 on the television executive, who had faced a maximum sentence of three years in prison for broadcasting a film that violates a prohibition in Islam with a scene depicting God. His attorney said he will appeal the verdict.
The Foreign Ministry on Monday said: “The Tunisian government expressed deep surprise at the statement of the U.S. ambassador in which he said he was disappointed by the ruling in the Nessma TV case.
In his statement, Mr. Gray said the verdict threatened “religious tolerance and freedom of expression.”
“The United States Embassy has been following Nebil Karoui’s trial for blasphemy with great interest, and I am concerned and disappointed by this conviction for Nessma television’s broadcast of an animated film previously approved for distribution by the Tunisian government,” the ambassador said.
“His conviction raises serious concerns about tolerance and freedom of expression in the new Tunisia. We understand that Mr. Karoui has the right to appeal his conviction, and we hope this case will be resolved in a manner which guarantees free expression, a basic right denied to Tunisians during the Ben Ali era.”
The TV executive last year broadcast the award-winning 2007 animated film “Persepolis,” which follows the Iranian revolution through the eyes of a little girl.
The film includes a scene that depicts God, which enraged some fundamentalist Muslims who attacked the TV station.
The movie is based on the autobiographical graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian-born French writer.
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