April 5, 2012
by Afef Abrougui
On 28 March a primary court in the coastal city of Mahdia, sentenced two atheist friends, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, to seven and a half years in prison, and to a fine of 1200 Tunisian Dinars (around USD $800) each, over the use of social networks to publish content deemed blasphemous. Mejri,and Beji were put on trial following a complaint lodged by a group of residents in Mahdia.
Private radio station Shems FM reported that Mejri and Beji published cartoons insulting the Prophet.
While Jabeur Mejri is in prison, his friend Ghazi Beji, who was sentenced in absentia, is at large. He fled to Athens to avoid prosecution. According to atheistica.com Beji wrote a book called “the Illusion of Islam”, and published it on the internet. His friend Mejri, wrote another book and “cursed the government, Islamists, Prophet Mohamed, drew a pig sleeping on the Kaaba [a sacred building for Muslims], and expressed his hatred towards Arabs and his love to Israel and its prime minister Natanyaho [sic]”.
Mejri, and Beji were convicted of “insulting others via public communication networks”, and spreading publications and writings that could “disturb public order” and “ moral transgression”.
The League of Tunisian Humanists condemned the sentence and complained about the “unclear circumstances that surrounded the trial, since one of the defendants fled”.
Olfa Riahi, a blogger and a journalist, who broke the story on the Tunisian blogosphere, told Index on Censorship that she is looking forward to see more associations getting together to support Mejri and Beji. “Many associations have started to react, but I would like to see [human rights group group] Liberty and Equity, as an association with an Islamic background, reacting too”, she said.
Bochra Bel Haji Hmida, a renowned Tunisian lawyer and women rights activist, will defend Mejri and Beji in their appeal.
Though the 2011 uprising has permitted Tunisians to freely express themselves, and criticize the political system; Islam has turned out to be a red line for the predominantly Muslim country, where censorship is taking on a religious tone.