|Tunisia is preparing for its first elections since the end of Ben-Ali’s 33-year rule [Reuters]|
Tunisian police have used tear gas to disperse thousands of people in the capital Tunis in the latest protest against a television channel accused of airing material considerd blasphemous by some groups.
Thousands of people, including worshippers from al-Fatah mosque in central Tunis, protested on the streets of the capital on Friday against Persepolis an animated film aired by Nesmaa TV.
The imam at al-Fatah had lashed out against the movie in his sermon, calling it a “serious attack on the religious beliefs of Muslims”.
Police stopped the marchers with tear gas as they headed toward the Nessma TV station.
Protests are ratching up before Tunisia’s landmark October 23 election for a constitutional body that will determine the future of this North African nation that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, its longtime president, in January.
Marjane Satrapi’s award-winning adaptation of her graphic novels about growing up during Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution contains a scene showing a character representing God. Depictions of God are considered sacrilege in Islam.
Many have questioned Nesmaa’s decision to air Persepolis, which won the jury prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, at a time when tensions between secularists and advocates of political Islam are already high.
The film had been previously screened in French langauage in Tunisian cinemas without any incident. But its first showing on television, in Tunisian dialect, has drawn severe criticism.
Station chief Nabil Karoui apologised for airing the film earlier this week, calling it a “mistake”.
“I am sorry to all the people who were upset by this sequence, which also shocked me,” Karoui told a local radio on Tuesday.
“I believe that to have broadcast this sequence was a mistake. We never had the intention of attacking sacred values.”
There have been other protests against the TV station in the cities of Sousse, Monastir, Sidi Bouzid and Beja.
However, organisations such as the Free Patriotic Union (UPL) and the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) have issued press releases condemning the protests as attacks on freedom of expression.
Salafists attacked a movie theatre in June that was showing a film they deemed insulting to Islam and last week there were attacks on a university that refused to enroll a student wearing a face veil.