Tunisian Pardoned Over Caricatures of Mohammed

Tunisian jailed since 2012 for posting caricatures of the prophet Mohammed online receives a pardon.

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Elad Benari,

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki

A Tunisian jailed since 2012 for posting caricatures of the prophet Mohammed online has received a presidential pardon, an official said Wednesday, according to AFP.

It remains unclear, however, whether the man, Jabeur Mejri, will be released.

President Moncef Marzouki signed the pardon for Mejri concerning the “main case,” the president's spokesman told Shems FM radio, but added, “We were surprised by the existence of another (criminal) case,” without elaborating.

Mejri, who comes from Mahdia, south of Tunis, is serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence for posting cartoons of the prophet on his Facebook page.

Since the penal code does not punish blasphemy, he was convicted of transgressing morality, defamation and disturbing public order, reported AFP.

The president announced on his official Facebook page that Mejri had been granted a “special pardon” without providing further details.

The Tunisia head of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Mokhtar Trifi, who has been closely following the case, said he was unaware of any other allegations against Mejri.

“We have absolutely no knowledge of any other case,” he told AFP.

Tunisia's prisons authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mejri and his co-defendant Ghazi Beji, both unemployed and militant atheists, were charged with “publishing works likely to disturb public order” and “offence to public decency.”

Beji fled abroad and was given asylum in France last June.

Marzouki had said on several occasions he wanted to free Mejri, but warned it would be difficult so long as Tunisia faced a rise in jihadist terrorism.

Insulting Mohammed is seen as blasphemous in the Arab world and many Muslim countries have serious penalties for people who are deemed to have insulted the prophet.

In 2012, the Arab world was riled up after the "Innocence of Muslims" film depicted the prophet as a buffoon and pedophile, sparking a wave of angry anti-American protests across the Middle East in which more than 30 people were killed.

Adding fuel to the fire was the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which published cartoons caricaturing the Muslim prophet. One of the cartoons showed an Orthodox Jew pushing the prophet, while in another cartoon Mohammed is shown in the nude, with his back aimed at a film director.

In 2011, the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine were firebombed after it released an edition that mocked radical Islam.

In Syria, jihadist rebel groups who took over Aleppo warned citizens against “hurting the dignity” of the prophet Mohammed and threatened to execute anyone who does so.