Riot police responded to a public protest against Nessma TV on Mohamed V Avenue and at the Manaar campus center in Tunis today, threatening violence and using tear gas against protesters in El Manaar.
After Nessma broadcast the film “Persepolis” on October 7th, public anger against the channel started brewing, including calls on Facebook for a demonstration. Anger focused on the film’s literal depiction of God, which is forbidden by Islam. A Facebook event became a real protest in front of Karoui and Karoui Company, the founders of Nessma TV.
The protest was not enormous – about 80 people – but four vehicles full with police arrived to stop them.
People were shouting, calling the founders humiliating names and accusing them of corruption. Some accused the company of being drug dealers and gathering money from suspicious business practices.
The headquarters of Karoui and Karoui Company were guarded by private security and security dogs, the sight of which angered protesters even more.
Police responded to the shouting by threatening violence and stopping them from filming. They threatened to beat up the protesters if they didn’t immediately leave the place.
Abd Erraouf Ben Taleb, a middle-aged man, was angry about Nessma airing the kind of shows that hurt people’s faith. “The owner of Nessma TV should clean up himself first before he dare to talk about God,” Ben Taleb told Tunisia Live. “Karoui should be prosecuted. If the government was strong enough that man would be standing in front of justice for corruption and not talking about God.”
Ahmed Amroui, who attended the protest since the beginning, stated that the protesters did nothing that required the intervention of the police. “We were here since 9am. We came to defend our religion. We made absolutely no disturbance. We just expressed ourselves peacefully and took pictures – that’s all. The police came in and beat us up and injured one of my friends. We are not Salafists – there are no bearded men here as you can see. I think that we they want to deprive from us our right of expression.”
A large gathering of people in the university campus center in El Manaar also caused conflicts between demonstrators and police, who fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.
According to Hichem Meddeb, an agent of the Interior Ministry, the ministry dispersed small groups in Bab Sadoun where the protest started, in front of Nessma headquartes, and in Ariana. Mr. Hishem said that they arrested a group of people for interrogation but they kept only ten in detention.
The Free Patriotic Union (UPL) issued a press release against what they called the violent acts against Nessma, saying that these kind of protests repress freedom of expression.
“Persepolis,” the cartoon film that was aired for the first time on an Arabic channel in the Arab world, criticized the Islamic religion and its symbols.
The film pictured a girl trying to understand the meaning of life and trying to find her path through it. The film presented God as a living creature and gave him a specific shape, which is forbidden in the Islamic religion. The film also featured the girl pushing God away and criticizing the Hijab.
Myriam is a communication consultant for the World Bank working as part of the Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) team in Marseille, France. Since Joining she has been working on reinforcing the communication strategy of the CMI. She has over five years of experience in the field of media and communication having worked as a journalist with both local and international organizations in Tunisia and abroad.