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Tunisia releases official held for ‘un-Islamic’ art riot

Tunisian police stand guard on June 15 in Tunis, three days after after rioting over an art exhibition (© 2009 AFP)

A Tunisian court on Wednesday released a court officer who is accused of inciting a wave of riots by condemning an art exhibit as offensive to Islam, his lawyers told AFP.

“My client has been set free and the verdict will be delivered on July 4,” attorney Fathi Layouni said of his client, Mohamed Ali Bouaziz, who was arrested last week and faces up to a year in prison.

Bouaziz is accused of triggering the rioting that engulfed several parts of the country on June 11 and 12, which left one dead and more than 100 wounded, by calling for a protest against an exhibit at a gallery in northern Tunis.

The exhibit included a painting of a naked woman with bearded men standing behind her and a piece spelling the word “Allah” with a file of ants.

During his hearing Wednesday at a court in the northern city of Carthage, Abdelaziz said that after stumbling across the exhibit “by accident” on June 10, he he had gone to his neighbourhood mosque and showed photos of the “offensive” works, calling for a protest at 6:00 pm.

“I left the protest at 7:30 pm at the police’s request and I had nothing to do with what followed,” he said.

Suspected Salafists — who follow an ultra-conservative brand of Islam — snuck into the gallery the same day and destroyed some of the works. The vandalism was followed by two days of violence.

Signature : CARTHAGE, Tunisia (AFP)

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