By Tarek Amara
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS, February 17, 2012 (Reuters)
Three Tunisian journalists face trial on morality charges after publishing a photograph of a footballer frolicking with a nude woman, raising fears of a media crackdown by the country’s new Islamist rulers.
The Attounissia newspaper printed a photograph on Wednesday of German-Tunisian football player Sami Khedira of Real Madrid dressed in a tuxedo with his hands covering the breasts of his otherwise naked German model girlfriend, Lena Gercke.
The photograph drew an angry response from the country’s public prosecutor who ordered the detention of Nasreddine Ben Said, Attounissia’s publisher, Habib Guizani, its editor-in- chief, and Hedi Hidhri, the editor of its world section, according to Chokri Nafti, a spokesman for the justice ministry.
The three were accused of offending public morality. Two were released late on Thursday pending trial but Ben Said remained incarcerated, his lawyer Chokri Beleid told Reuters.
The trio were the first journalists to be arrested since the revolution a year ago ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who had censored the media.
“Ben Said’s imprisonment is illegal and is aimed at terrorising media… The judiciary used the same law that Ben Ali used to pursue journalists and it is being utilised to strike down enemies just as it was under Ben Ali,” Beleid said.
The arrests have raised fears among secular Tunisians that the Islamist-led government will increasingly seek to censor material it deems offensive to its religious morals.
Tunisia’s journalists’ union called in a statement for the “immediate release of all journalists and the rejection of intimidation against reporters.”
On Facebook, thousands of Tunisians launched a campaign to support the journalists and to defend freedom of expression.
“This issue is political and aims to quell the voice of the media and stop it criticizing the government .. it is a very serious indicator,” Jihen Lagmari, a journalist at Attounissia told Reuters.
She added that journalists at the newpaper had received anonymous phone calls threatening to set fire to the building, which is being guarded by police.
The government, led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, came to power in elections in October and is facing strong opposition in secularist newspapers.
Its critics have also spoken out against its decision to try a local television channel for showing Persepolis, a film whose animated depiction of God outraged conservative Salafi Islamists.
Tunisia’s once-staid media has enjoyed a new lease of life since the removal of Ben Ali, but activists say the government is now seeking to impose new controls.
Last month, hundreds of journalists demonstrated outside the office of the prime minister to demand an end to restrictions on media freedoms after the appointment of government officials and editors to state television positions.
The government has repeatedly denied accusations it is seeking to stifle the media.