Tunis - A Tunisian jailed for posting caricatures of Prophet Mohammed online is to remain in prison despite a presidential pardon, pending a separate trial for “embezzlement”, his lawyer said on Thursday.
“I contacted the judge investigating the case at the court in Mahdia who confirmed the embezzlement charges relating to when Jabeur (Mejri) worked for the SNCFT (Tunisian railways),” Ahmed Mselmi told AFP.
The judge issued a warrant for him to remain in detention on January 9, the lawyer added, even though the case dates back to “well before Jabbeur's imprisonment” in March 2012.
Mejri, 29, was sentenced to seven and half years in jail for posting cartoons of the Muslim prophet on his Facebook page, in a case that sparked heated controversy in Tunisia, with secular opposition and human rights groups campaigning for his release.
The militant atheist was an unemployed graduate at the time of his imprisonment, but had worked previously at the train station ticket office in his hometown of Mahdia, 150 kilometres south of Tunis.
Neither Mselmi, Mejri's family, the defendant's support group or even the presidency had been told about the embezzlement case against him.
President Moncef Marzouki's spokesman announced on Wednesday that the Tunisian head of state had pardoned Mejri, but added they had then been “surprised” to learn of separate charges against the defendant, meaning that he could not be released immediately.
Mselmi said he planned to meet the investigating judge later on Thursday to find out the details of the case and submit a bail request, which he hoped would be granted “at the beginning of next week at the latest.”
The lawyer could not give details about the identity of the plaintiff, having not seen the detention warrant, but said it was “without doubt a representative of the SNCFT.”
After publishing their controversial caricatures on the Internet, Mejri and a co-defendant, Ghazi Beji, were convicted in March 2012 of “publishing works likely to disturb public order” and “offending public decency”, since Tunisia's penal code does not punish blasphemy.
Beji fled abroad and was given asylum in France last June.
Amnesty International called Mejri the first prisoner of conscience in Tunisia following the 2011 revolution that ousted a decades-long dictatorship.