Jabeur Mejri (on the left) and Ghazi Beji

On 25 June the Monsatir Court of Appeal confirmed a primary verdict in the case of Jabeur Mejri, a young Tunisian citizen convicted over the publishing of content deemed “insulting” to Islam.

On 28 March, Mahdia Primary court sentenced Mejri, and his friend Ghazi Beji to a seven and half-year jail term and a fine of 1200 TND each for publishing prophet Muhammad cartoons, and books critising Islam. Fearing persecution, Beji fled to Europe. He was sentenced in absentia. Mejri, however, is still in prison after losing appeal.

Defence lawyer Ahmed Msalmi told AFP yesterday, that the court refused the defence team’s request to examine the mental state of his defendant.

Both Mejri, and Beji were found guilty of “insulting others via public communication networks”, and spreading publications and writings that could “disturb public order” and “ moral transgression”.

On 5 March Mejri was arrested  by police following a complaint lodged by a Tunisian citizen, and a lawyer against him for publishing  prophet Muhammad caricatures on his Facebook page. He did admit publishing cartoons, and texts “offensive to the Prophet” and said that such acts reflect his personal beliefs. ” I do not recognise the Islamic religion, and I am an atheist”, he told police. When interrogated again by police on 7 March, Mejri said that the caricatures he published were handed over to him by his friend Ghazi Beji, who wrote a satirical book called the “Illusion of Islam”. When he found out that his name was cited, Ghazi fled to Europe.

The defence team now has only one chance left: appealing to the Cassation Court, the highest court of appeal.

Whether freedom of speech should be limited or not especially when it comes to religion is a heated debate in Tunisia. Free speech advocates in Tunisia have fears that laws establishing religion as a “red line” could be used to curb other modes of freedom of expression such as political speech.

Recently Ennhdha parliamentary block, which controles more that 40% of the national constituent assembly seats raised calls for the introduction of a constitutional clause which bans assaulting the “sacred”.