The pre-trial for the three Attounissia newsmen, who were arrested yesterday for the publication of a racy photo of Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira, was due to be held today in the prosecutor’s office in Bab Bnet, Tunis.
The images, originally published in the German edition of GQ magazine, were reproduced on the front page of yesterday’s edition of Attounissia.
According to Taoufik Nouira, a spokesman for the newspaper, the arrests were totally unexpected. “We thought we were living in a country where freedom of the press was respected. We did not expect this to happen at all,” he said.
Nouira stated that Attounissia was not trying to test the red-lines of what is, and is not, acceptable to publish. “If we wanted to be provocative we would have published the picture without the article about Sami Khedira that we included with it,” Nouira said.
In spite of the arrest of the paper’s owner, an editor, and a journalist, in addition to anonymous phone calls threatening the destruction of the paper’s offices, work is still continuing as normal for the Attounissia paper. A print edition of today’s Attounissia was published, and the paper’s website continues to be updated with the latest news.
More than five of Tunisia’s top defense lawyers have signed up to participate as the three newsmen’s legal defense team.
According to Khalid Krichi, one of the lawyers defending the newsmen, the newsmen stand to serve long prison sentences if they are convicted. ”There is a provision in the law on disrespecting public decency, and the punishment is up to five years in prison,” he said.
“However there are exemptions for journalists from this provision, and I believe Attounissia has a solid legal case on its side,” Krichi added.
Krichi claims that the real motivation for the arrest and prosecution of the newsmen is political. “I am sure this is related to the visit of Sheikh Wajdi Ghoneim,” said Krichi referring to the controversial visit of an Islamic religious leader who is now visiting Tunisia from Egypt.
Samia Fitouri contributed to this report.