Islamist backlash fear keeps artist in prison
THE man pictured below is Jabeur Mejri, who made the mistake of thinking that the new Tunisia which emerged in the spring of 2011 would sweep away draconian old censorship laws.
After all, Article 30 in the country’s new constitution guarantees:
Freedom of opinion, thought, expression, media, and publication.
So Mejri felt safe in posting a picture of the “prophet” Mohammed on his Facebook page in 2012. He was 29 at the time, and apparently used Facebook to express opinions that would have been unthinkable under the old regime.
Jabeur’s posts, according to to Amnesty International, were spotted by two lawyers who deemed them “offensive to Islam”. Within days Jabeur, along with a colleague, Ghazi Beji, had been charged with “undermining public morals” and “attacking sacred values through actions”.
The two hadn’t bargained on the contents of Article 6 of the constitution, which contains clauses protecting religion and the sacred:
The state protects religion, guarantees freedom of belief and conscience and religious practices, protects sanctities, and ensures the neutrality of mosques and places of worship away from partisan instrumentalisation. The state is committed to spreading the values of moderation and tolerance, and to protect the sacred and prevent it from being attacked, and is also committed to prohibit charges of apostasy (‘takfir’) and incitement to hatred and violence, and to combat them.
The two “blasphemers” was ordered to pay a hefty fine and each was jailed for seven and a half years in prison.
Beji managed to escape Tunisia and fled to France, where he obtained political asylum.
In what Amnesty International describes as “an ironic twist”, Tunisia’s current President Moncef Marzouki himself was once a human rights activist and even a prisoner of conscience. He is now the only person able to end Jabeur’s ordeal by granting him a presidential pardon.
He has repeatedly said he would like to intervene in favour of the young prisoner, but also pointed to the growing power of extremist jihadist groups as a reason not to.
Jabeur was part of Amnesty International’s 2013 Write for Rights campaign and nearly 12,000 signed petition calling for his release.
We now learn that a new campaign has been begun on his behalf. Artists from a dozen countries have launched an Internet campaign to free the young Tunisian artist.
The campaign – “One Hundred Drawings for Jabeur” – is meant to remind Tunisian lawmakers that the country’s newly adopted constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and of expression.
Continuing to hold the artist goes against “the spirit of the new charter”, claims the Committee in Support of Jabeur Mejri, a citizen group which launched the website containing more than 125 cartoons and drawings, including the one below which makes the point that using one’s brain is unacceptable to Muslim fundamentalists.