Tunisians jailed for posting 'Naked Muhammad' cartoons

Facebook front page on computer screen, file photo The men posted the cartoons on their Facebook accounts

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Officials in Tunisia say two bloggers have been jailed for seven years after posting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on the internet.

The Ministry of Justice said the men had put naked caricatures of the prophet on their Facebook accounts.

Activists have criticised the sentences and voiced fears that they could herald a clampdown on free speech.

A moderate Islamist government was elected following the fall of President Zine Abidine Ben Ali last year.

One of the men, Jabeur Mejri, is in jail while the second, Ghazi Beji, was sentenced in his absence and is being sought by the police.

"They were sentenced... for violation of morality, and disturbing public order," said Chokri Nefti, a justice ministry spokesman.

'Severe sentences'

The sentences were passed on 28 March but only came to light after being discussed online. The men's lawyers say they will appeal.

"The sentences are very heavy and severe, even if these young people were at fault," one Tunisian blogger, Nebil Zagdoud, told Reuters.

"This decision is aimed at silencing freedom of expression even on the Internet. Prosecutions for offending morals are a proxy for this government to gag everyone," he said.

There have been tensions between the government and hardline Muslims who think religion should play a bigger role in the country, while secular groups say freedom of expression and the rights of women are under threat.

Dozens of Islamists were arrested in November last year during demonstrations outside a television station that showed an Iranian film which they said contained blasphemous scenes.

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