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Verdict due for Tunisia TV chief

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Tunis - A verdict is due on Thursday in the divisive case against a Tunisian television station director accused of insulting sacred Islamic values for screening the animated film “Persepolis”.

Nabil Karoui's Nessma television station broadcast the award-winning Franco-Iranian film, which recounts the Iranian revolution and its aftermath through the eyes of a young girl, on October 7 last year.

It sparked outrage because of scenes depicting God, whose representation is banned in Islam.

The verdict is being keenly watched as a litmus test of freedom of the media in Tunisia, whose uprising inspired the Arab Spring revolts which toppled several dictators across the region.

Within two days of the broadcast, Islamic militants attacked the television station's offices and Karoui's home during violent demonstrations in Tunis.

The case has split Tunisia, with many in the newly democratised country supporting its broadcast and civil liberties activists and media rights groups in the north African nation quick to defend it.

“To prosecute and convict people for peacefully expressing their views, even if these are considered shocking by some, is totally unacceptable,” said rights group Amnesty International's Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

In late 2010, Tunisian protesters toppled the entrenched dictatorship of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, sparking similar uprisings across the Arab World.

A moderate Islamist party called Ennahda won the most seats in October elections, the first since Ben Ali fell.

While the party has assured citizens it has no plans to create a extremist religious state, some have voiced fears the Islamist movements within the country, emboldened by the Ennahda victory, may try to restrict free expression and secular values.

“The judgment will be historic and will have an effect on the entire region,” Karoui said following a final hearing last week.

He added that the ruling would mark “a decisive day for freedom of expression and the press.”

The verdict coincides with World Press Freedom Day 2012, a United Nations event that aims to defend the media from attacks on their independence. - Sapa-AFP


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