Last updated: 5 March, 2014

Amnesty urges Tunis to quash Mohammed caricature sentence

Amnesty International welcomed Wednesday the release of a Tunisian jailed for posting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed but called for his sentence to be quashed and his name cleared.

Jabeur Mejri, 29, was freed Tuesday, two years into a seven-and-a-half-year sentence. His release came two weeks after a presidential pardon.

“Jabeur Mejri’s release is a huge relief for his family and a victory for all the activists who have campaigned on his behalf across the globe,” the London-based rights group said.

“Putting him behind bars for two years for the images he posted online was a travesty that risked crushing all hope of genuine progress on freedom of expression,” said Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther.

“A pardon is insufficient. Tunisia’s authorities must now set the record straight. His conviction and sentence should be quashed and his name must be cleared once and for all.”

Luther noted that a presidential pardon does not expunge Mejri’s criminal record.

The authorities “must live up to their obligations to protect” the right to freedom of expression as laid down in the country’s newly adopted constitution, he said.

On February 19, President Moncef Marzouki’s spokesman announced that the head of state had pardoned Mejri.

But Mejri was not immediately released as new charges against him emerged involving embezzlement dating back to the time when he worked for Tunisian railways — well before his imprisonment in March 2012 for posting the cartoons.

But his lawyer appealed and secured his release Tuesday.

Mejri, an atheist activist, was an unemployed graduate at the time of his imprisonment in 2012, but had worked previously at the railroad ticket office in his hometown of Mahdia, south of Tunis.

The caricatures he posted on Facebook were considered insulting to Islam.

Amnesty called Mejri the first prisoner of conscience in Tunisia following the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.