Tunisia cartoonist receives pardon but no release from prison

Release of Mejri could anger jihadists

TUNIS - A Tunisian jailed since 2012 for posting caricatures of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) online has received a presidential pardon, an official said Wednesday, but it is unclear whether he will be released.
President Moncef Marzouki signed the pardon for Jabeur Mejri concerning the "main case," the president's spokesman Adnene Manser told Shems FM radio, but he added: "We were surprised by the existence of another (criminal) case," without elaborating.
The president announced on his official Facebook page that Mejri had been granted a "special pardon" without providing further details.
The Tunisia head of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Mokhtar Trifi, who has been closely following the case, said he was unaware of any other allegations against Mejri.
"We have absolutely no knowledge of any other case," he said.
Tunisia's prisons authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mejri, who comes from Mahdia, south of Tunis, is serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence for posting cartoons of the Prophet (PBUH) on his Facebook page.
Since the penal code does not punish blasphemy, he was convicted of transgressing morality, defamation and disturbing public order.
Mejri and his co-defendant Ghazi Beji, both unemployed and militant atheists, were charged with "publishing works likely to disturb public order" and "offence to public decency".
Beji fled abroad and was given asylum in France last June.
Marzouki had said on several occasions he wanted to free Mejri, but warned it would be difficult so long as Tunisia faced a rise in activity by jihadist groups.
"There are huge tensions, there is the fight against terrorism, I do not want this release to start debates. But I am going to free him, I am simply looking for the right moment, both for his own security and that of the country," Marzouki said in Paris last November.