A court in Tunisia on Thursday fined the director of a newspaper for having published a cover photo of Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira embracing his naked model girlfriend.
Nassredine Ben Saida, managing editor of the daily Ettounsia, was fined 1,000 dinars (500 euros, $660) for having violated decency laws, court officials said. Critics call the case an attack on media freedom in the country that sparked uprisings across the Arab world last year.
It also ordered the destruction of all copies of the Feb. 15 edition in which the photo appeared.
Although Sami Khedira plays for the German national team and has a German mother, his father is Tunisian.
Khedira dressed in a tuxedo with his hands covering the breasts of his naked German model girlfriend, Lena Gercke, according to The Associated Press.
The verdict comes amid concern by some in Tunisia about a growing ultraconservative Islamist movement after decades under an aggressively secular regime.
“I am disappointed,” Saida told AFP. “I was expecting to be acquitted.”
“There was no reason to be punished, we are defending the principle of freedom of the press,” he said, adding that he would file an appeal.
Patrick Kamenka, who attended the trial on behalf of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), condemned the fine.
“This conviction is nothing other than a form of unacceptable censorship against a paper and its journalists,” said Kamenka.
“It’s a serious blow to the freedom of the press and news in the wake of the Arab spring -- and all that fuss for a photo!” he added.
The arrest of Saida and three of his journalists in February -- and the detention for eight days of Saida -- sparked an angry response from Tunisian journalists and their unions.
It was the first time a journalist had been detained since the fall in January 2011 of the repressive regime of Zine ElAbidine Ben Eli. Saida’s colleagues were released but copies of the paper were seized.
Paris-based media rights watchdog Journalists Without Borders called for the charges against him to be dropped.
But Justice Minister Nourredine Bhiri last month defended the arrest and told journalists to stop harassing magistrates.
“No one is above the law in Tunisia, where the rule of law prevails since the revolution of January 14” last year, the minister said.
Khedira himself expressed his concern at the affair, in comments to German daily Bild last month.
“I respect the different religions that exist and also the faith that people have, but I cannot understand that people cannot express themselves freely,” he said.
The photos of Khedira and his model girlfriend Lena Gercke were originally run by GQ magazine.