Reuters is reporting the story of two Tunisians who received prison sentences for posting to Facebook cartoons depicting the image of the prophet Mohammad. The Tunisian justice ministry said Muhammad was depicted naked in the cartoons. Reuters quotes a justice ministry spokesperson as saying, “They were sentenced…to seven years in prison for violation of morality, and disturbing public order.”
In January 2011, Tunisians ousted their longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. That revolution sparked what is now known as the “Arab Spring,” where populations in many North African and Middle Eastern countries began revolting against their autocratic leaders. Tunisians held their first free elections late last year, electing a moderate Muslim government. An overwhelming majority of Tunisians are Muslim, with 98% following Islam.
The two men, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, were sentenced on March 28. Mejri is beginning his 7-year sentence, but Beji is on the lam. In an interview with Tunisia Live, Beji claims he fled Tunisia when he heard that Mejri had been arrested. Beji said he and Mejri uploaded manuscripts of books, one in English, the other in Arabic, that were critical of Islam. The texts contained the pictures for which they were sentenced.
Reuters claims the story didn’t get out about the sentencing until Tunisian bloggers began publishing details online. From the Reuters story:
“The sentences are very heavy and severe, even if these young people were at fault,” one Tunisian blogger, Nebil Zagdoud, told Reuters.
“This decision is aimed at silencing freedom of expression even on the Internet. Prosecutions for offending morals are a proxy for this government to gag everyone.”
Using religion as lubrication to force oppressive social policy on a country? Sounds familiar. What do you think? Is the new government in Tunisia just as bad as the previous one? What is your opinion of blasphemy laws or the role of religion in government? Let me know in the comments below.