Tunisian court orders fine on TV station owner

A Tunisian court on Thursday convicted the head of a private TV station for disrupting public order and violating moral values by airing an animated film that some religious leaders say insults Islam.

The court in Tunis ordered Nabil Karoui to pay a 2,400-dinar (€1,200, $1,575) fine because his station, Nessma TV, aired the animated film "Persepolis" in October.

The case has pitted liberals and defenders of media freedom against hard-line Islamic groups who say that the film, which includes a depiction of God, is sacrilegious. The legal battle has underscored a struggle between secularists and Islamists the North African nation after last year's overthrow of its longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first Arab Spring uprising.

In its ruling Thursday, the court convicted Karoui of causing "troubles to the public order" and "offense to good morals" but threw out a charge of "offense against a sacred item," according to defense lawyer Abada Kefi.

The lawyer said he would appeal the verdict.

Karoui, reached by The Associated Press, called the ruling a negative signal that "strikes a blow not only at freedom of expression, but creative freedom."

"You can't be half-guilty and half-innocent," added Karoui, who said he feared the ruling's impact in other North African countries. The network is also aired in Algeria, Libya and Morocco.

Troops were deployed to separate rival protests over the film during the trial last month. Several hundred hardline Islamists, known as Salafists, called for the TV station to be shut down, while a similar number of liberals backed Karoui.

The French-language movie, which had earlier appeared in Tunisian theaters with little complaint, was broadcast in October dubbed into a Tunisian dialect ahead of elections won by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party.

The broadcast prompted angry demonstrations and Karoui's home was later firebombed by a mob.

The film is Iranian director Marjane Satrapi's adaptation of her graphic novel about growing up during Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. It won the jury prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

(This version CORRECTS the size of fine.)