Last March, Jabeur Mejri was arrested and charged for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on his Facebook page. Mejri, along with another co-defendant who is believed to be hiding in Europe, were sentenced to seven and a half years imprisonment for publication of the cartoons.
Now, Mejri has lost his latest court appeal, meaning he must remain in jail and fulfil his seven year sentence. Mejri was charged with "transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order" for publishing nude cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook, as well as slandering major Tunisian political figures.
"We are aware of how important it is to respect sacred values but this ruling is particularly harsh and not consistent with human rights," Mejri’s lawyer, Ahmed Msalmi said
"Such a harsh judgment can be considered a form of torture. The accused is mentally unstable and his social background should also be taken into consideration."
Msalmi also stated that he was considering taking the appeal to the last court of appeals in the country, but no definite decision to do so appears to have been made yet.
Trials for those who have been accused of "transgressing morality" have risen recently, following the win of the Islamist Ennahda party during last October’s election. Tunisian protests, which began as a result of unemployment and the cost of living and ended with upheaval of president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, are what is thought to have inspired the follow-up Arab Spring protests throughout the region.
"Moral transgression" cases are also becoming more and more common, one of the most notable being the case against a newspaper editor who was fined for printing a nude photograph, as well as trial of a television channel director who was accused of broadcasting a "blasphemous" film.
The latest protest against artistic freedom came after a group of Salafists rioted and destroyed several art works in an art exhibition. According to them, the most offensive of these was the painting of a nude woman surrounded by bearded men, with the word "Allah" (God) spelt out through a line of ants.
Following the dangerous riots, the government sided with the protesters, leaving many artists in shock and dismay. And with the news that Mejri has lost his latest appeal, it appears that the right to artistic freedom, whether it is on the street or online, has a long way to go before it is accepted by the Tunisian government.