In a communiqué issued yesterday evening, the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed surprise on behalf of the Tunisian government concerning US ambassador to Tunisia Gordon Gray’s recent statements on the May 3 verdict of the controversial Persepolis case.
Nabil Karoui, the owner of Nessma TV, the station that aired the award-winning Franco-Iranian film, was fined 2,400 dinars on charges of “violating sacred values” and “disturbing public order.” The controversy primarily centered around the film’s visual depiction of God, an act which is considered heretical in certain interpretations of Islam.
Following the verdict, Gray expressed his concern and disappointment with Karoui’s indictment by the court.
“His conviction raises serious concerns about tolerance and freedom of expression in the new Tunisia. We understand that Mr. Karoui has the right to appeal his conviction, and we hope this case will be resolved in a manner, which guarantees free expression, a basic right denied to Tunisians during the Ben Ali era,” read a statement released by the American Embassy with ambassador’s comments.
The Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs response stated that the ambassador’s declarations represent an “interference in the internal affairs of the Tunisian judiciary,” and asserted that the Tunisian government conforms to international norms and respects the independence of the judiciary in forming its own conclusion.
The Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also reiterated its commitment to strengthening relations with the United States, but also stressed that bilateral relations should be built on mutual understanding and respect of the sovereignty of the two countries.
When contacted, the American embassy declined to comment on the statement issued by the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Tunisian-American relations date back to the 18th century. After Tunisia achieved independence from France, the United States was among the first major powers to recognize the sovereignty of the Tunisian republic. Tunisia opened its embassy in Washington in September 1956 and the US opened its embassy in Tunis one month later.