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IFEX/TMG Press Release Protesting Excessive Prison Sentence for Tunisian Jabeur Mejri

05/25/2012

For more than a decade the Cartoonists Rights Network International has been a member of the IFEX free speech and human rights network.   Recently, CRNI/IFEX conducted a workshop for MENA region cartoonists in the city of Sousse, Tunisia.  CRNI's Director Robert Russell and Board Member Nik Kowsar, were joined by IFEX Representative Ghias Aljundi as workshop leaders.  Among the issues discussed was the state of free speech in the post-Arab Revolution period in Tunisia.  It was noted that a blogger, Jabeur Mejri, who imported a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed into his blog, had been arrested for disturbing public order.  Despite the fact that there was no disturbance to public order, Jabeur was sentenced to seven years in prison.  This sentence contradicted the public statements of various Tunisian ministers when they spoke about free speech and human rights.

Please visit the IFEX website to learn more about their membership and the free speech and human rights activities they support.  Please also read the following joint statement drafted and signed by members of the Tunisia Monitoring Group protesting the excessive prison sentence.   

PRESS RELEASE:

(IFEX-TMG) - 25 May 2012 - Ahead of a court of appeal hearing on 28 May, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 21 IFEX members, urges the Tunisian judiciary to quash the seven-year prison terms handed down in late March to Ghazi Ben Mohamed Beji and Jabeur Ben Abdallah Majri.

Both men were convicted on 28 March by the First Degree Court of Mahdia for publishing online satirical writings about Islam and the Prophet, materials deemed "liable to cause harm to public order or public morals."  Majri has been in prison since 5 March, while Beji, who fled to Europe where he is seeking political asylum, was convicted in absentia.  Lawyers launched an appeal only in Majri's case, because they said they feared they would lose an appeal for Beji in absentia.  The Monastir Court of Appeal is expected to make its ruling on Monday.

"An important free speech case in Tunisia seems to have slipped through the cracks," stated Robert Russell, Director of Cartoonists Rights Network International, an IFEX-TMG member.  "There is an undercurrent of fear.  Fear that extremists, having threatened these men and their families, are sending a message to the Tunisian authorities that their views should not be challenged," he added.

This case against social media users also flies in the face of the statement by Minister for Human Rights and Transitional Justice Samir Dilou that "the Internet was a partner in the revolution so the government would not punish this partner."  The Minister made this comment before the UN Human Rights Council on 22 May in Geneva, where he led the Tunisian delegation at the Universal Periodic Review of Tunisia.  The IFEX-TMG is calling on Minister Dilou to stand firm by his words and protect free speech in Tunisia.

"People have every right to dislike certain content that they deem offensive and to express their dislike peacefully.  What cannot be accepted is when magistrates appointed to protect fundamental rights choose to infringe them in the name of their personal beliefs," stated Riadh Guerfali, a lawyer and co-founder of the participatory website Nawaat.org.

"After the case against Nasreddine Ben Saïda, director of the daily newspaper Ettounsiyya, and the one against Nabil Karoui, director of Nessma TV, this is at least the third case in which the new Tunisian authorities have brought charges for speech deemed offensive to Islam or morality, using Ben Ali's autocratic laws," stressed Virginie Jouan, IFEX-TMG Chair.  "Tunisians have paid a high price to enjoy and exercise their full right to free expression, not a downgraded version of it," she added.

For more information:
IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
Virginie Jouan, Chair
on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
jouanvirginie (@) gmail.com
http://www.facebook.com/IFEXTMG
http://ifex.org/tunisia/tmg/
@IFEXTMG
 
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Freedom House
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger (JED)
Maharat Foundation (Skills Foundation)
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

(TMG de l'IFEX) - Le 25 mai 2012 - À la veille d'une audience en appel le 28 mai, le Groupe d'observation de la Tunisie organisé par l'Échange international de la liberté d'expression (TMG de l'IFEX), coalition de 21 groupes membres de l'IFEX, demande aux autorités judiciaires tunisiennes d'invalider les condamnations à sept ans d'emprisonnement prononcées à la fin mars contre Ghazi Ben Mohamed Beji et Jaber Ben Abdallah Majri.

Le 28 mars, les deux hommes ont été reconnus coupables par la Première chambre de Mahdia d'avoir publié en ligne des écrits satiriques sur l'islam et le Prophète, publications jugées « susceptibles de troubler l'ordre public ou la morale publique ».  Majri est incarcéré depuis le 5 mars, tandis que Beji, qui s'est enfui en Europe où il cherche à obtenir l'asile politique, a été jugé coupable in absentia.  Les avocats ont interjeté appel uniquement dans le cas de Majri, parce qu'ils disent craindre de perdre l'appel de Beji in absentia. La Cour d'appel de Monastir devrait rendre sa décision lundi.

« Une importante affaire de liberté d'expression en Tunisie semble nous avoir échappé », dit Robert Russell, directeur du Cartoonists Rights Network International, un groupe membre du TMG de l'IFEX. « Il y a un courant sous-jacent de peur.  Peur que des extrémistes, ayant menacé ces hommes et leurs familles, n'envoient aux autorités tunisiennes le message que leurs opinions ne sauraient être remises en question », ajoute-t-il.

Cette affaire contre des utilisateurs de médias sociaux contredit la déclaration du Ministre des Droits de la personne et de la Justice transitionnelle, Samir Dilou, selon qui « l'Internet a été un partenaire dans la révolution; le gouvernement ne punira pas ce partenaire ».  Le ministre a fait ce commentaire devant le Conseil des Droits de l'Homme des Nations Unies le 22 mai à Genève, où il dirigeait la délégation tunisienne lors de la Revue périodique universelle de la Tunisie.  Le TMG de l'IFEX appelle le ministre Dilou à respecter sa parole et à protéger la liberté d'expression en Tunisie.

« Les gens ont parfaitement le droit de ne pas apprécier certains contenus qu'ils jugent offensants et d'exprimer leur aversion de manière non violente.  Ce qui est inacceptable, c'est lorsque des magistrats désignés pour protéger les droits fondamentaux choisissent d'enfreindre ces droits au nom de leurs croyances personnelles », a déclaré Riadh Guerfali, avocat et co-fondateur du site web participatif Nawaat.org.

« Après l'affaire contre Nasreddine Ben Saïda, directeur du quotidien « Ettounsiyya » et celle contre Nabil Karoui, directeur de Nessma TV, c'est la troisième fois au moins que les nouvelles autorités tunisiennes instruisent des affaires pour des propos jugés offensants envers l'Islam ou la morale en utilisant des lois autocratiques de Ben Ali », a souligné Virginie Jouan, présidente du TMG de l'IFEX.  « Les Tunisiens ont payé un lourd tribut pour bénéficier de leur plein droit à la libre expression et pour l'exercer, et non d'une version déclassée », a-t-elle ajouté.

Pour tout renseignement complémentaire:
Le groupe d'observation de la Tunisie de l'IFEX
Virginie Jouan, Chair
on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
jouanvirginie (@) gmail.com
http://www.facebook.com/IFEXTMG
http://ifex.org/tunisia/tmg/
@IFEXTMG
 
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Egyptian Organization For Human Rights
Freedom House
Index on Censorship
Fédération Internationale des Journalistes
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Fondation Maharat
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
Association mondiale de radiodiffuseurs communautaires (AMARC)
Association Mondiale des Journaux et des Éditeurs de Médias d'Information
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International