'Blasphemous' television boss goes on trial in Tunisia

TUNIS - A Tunisian television channel boss went on trial Thursday amid rowdy scenes in a packed court for "undermining sacred values" by showing the film "Persepolis", to the wrath of Islamic hardliners.

"I feel an immense sadness because the people who wanted to destroy the channel are free and I am here because I broadcast a film," Nabil Karoui, the head of private Nessma TV, said when he arrived at the courtroom in Tunis.

Two of his employees were also on trial. After an hour of noisy debates, the proceedings were adjourned until January 23 at the request of the defence team and the prosecution alike.

The court was filled with hundreds of people including numerous workers for Nessma TV, who had crowded into the small audience room. Lawyers also loudly argued with each other and some wanted the proceedings to be broadcast.

Nessma TV's broadcast of the animated film "Persepolis" on October 7, dubbed into the Tunisian dialect, provoked a wave of protests that included an attack on the station's offices and violent street demonstrations.

"Persepolis", a globally acclaimed film on Iran's 1979 revolution, offended many Muslims because of a scene showing a representation of God. All depictions of God are forbidden by Islam.

Karoui, who faces a suit filed by more than 140 lawyers, is being prosecuted for "undermining sacred values, undermining decent standards and causing trouble to public order." He risks three years in prison.

"I am going to plead not guilty, of course," he told AFP before the trial.

The unrest sparked by the film began with an attempted attack by Islamist hardliners on the headquarters of Nessma TV in Tunis and culminated when more than 100 people carried out a firebomb attack on Karoui's home on October 14. He was absent, but his family had to flee.

Witnesses said the attackers were members of the ultra-conservative Salafist sect, who continued the violence even though Karoui apologised for showing the most controversial scene in the film.