A Tunisian court has sentenced two young men to seven years in prison for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, the justice ministry said Thursday.
“They were sentenced, one of them in absentia, to seven years in prison, for transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order,” ministry spokesman Chokri Nefti said, adding that the sentence was handed down late last month.
On March 28, a primary court in the coastal city of Mahdia, sentenced the two men, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, both in their late twenties. to seven years in prison and 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 filed by a group of residents in Mahdia.
The League of Tunisian Humanists condemned the sentence and complained about the “unclear circumstances that surrounded the trial.”
Beji wrote a book called “the Illusion of Islam”, discussing his views about Islam and religion. Mejri, also wrote a book. “Dark Land”, where he “cursed the government, Islamists, and expressed his hatred towards Arabs.“
According to the news web portal, Tunisia Live, Mejri, an English teacher, is currently in custody following his arrest by Tunisian police in early March. Beji, who is a 27 year-old biotechnology food engineer, managed to flee Tunisia and is currently in Greece seeking asylum.
The representative of Human Rights Watch in Tunisia, Emna Galeli, was quoted by the news website saying that the organization considered the judgment “an attack on freedom of expression and freedom of belief.”
In an interview with Tunisia Live, Beji, who describes himself as an atheist, said: “After the Revolution, in March 2011, I said to myself Tunisia is a free and democratic country now and I should try to publish my book. I contacted several book publishers in Mahdia but they all refused to publish it. So I opted to upload it online.”