Last week, a Tunisian court sentenced Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji to seven years in prison for posting naked caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook. They were given five years in prison for causing public disorder with what the court deemed as immoral actions as well as an additional two for bringing harm to others via public channels of communication.
The two young men, both in their late twenties, were also fined 1200 Tunisian Dinars ($790) each for publishing content considered blasphemous on the social network. Mejri and Beji were put on trial following a complaint filed by a group of residents.
"They were sentenced, one of them in absentia, to seven years in prison, for transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order," ministry spokesman Chokri Nefti said in a statement on Thursday. The ruling was given on March 28, but wasn't reported till today when bloggers started posting information about the case on the Internet. The League of Tunisian Humanists condemned the sentence and complained about the trial on Facebook.
Beji was the one that was absent. He fled when he heard his friend Mejri had named him while being tortured.
"When the security forces first arrested Mejri, they told him that they detained him to protect him from any Salafist attack," Beji told Tunisia Live. "But later, they assaulted and tortured him. I was told that he mentioned my name under torture. When I heard of what happened to my friend. I knew that I had to run away. I went to Algeria, Turkey and then crossed illegally to Greece. Here, I am now trying to contact NGOs and other countries to grant me asylum."
This all started when Beji, a biotechnology food engineer, wrote a book called "the Illusion of Islam," in which he discussed his views about Islam and religion. Mejri, an English teacher, meanwhile wrote a book called "Dark Land," in which he criticized the government, Islamists, and Arabs in general.
At the time of writing, Mejri is still in custody while Beji is in Greece. This case will likely further fuel accusations that Tunisia's new Islamist leaders are stifling free speech.