By Lin Noueihed
TUNIS, March 8 (Reuters) - A Tunisian court fined a newspaper publisher 1,000 dinars ($665)on Thursday for printing a photograph of a footballer frolicking with his nude girlfriend, raising fears of a media crackdown by the country's new Islamist rulers.
The Attounissia newspaper, a tabloid set up after the revolution that ousted Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali, published a photograph last month of German-Tunisian footballer Sami Khedira of Real Madrid dressed in a tuxedo with his hands covering the breasts of his naked German model girlfriend, Lena Gercke.
The photograph angered the country's public prosecutor who ordered the detention of the publisher Nasreddine Ben Saida, and two senior journalists at the newspaper. The journalists were quickly released but Ben Saida spent eight days behind bars before a court hearing on Feb.24 that freed him on bail.
In Thursday's hearing, he was fined 1,000 dinars for offending public morals and taste by publishing the photo, the official TAP news agency reported.
"The ruling is unfair as there was no intention to provoke and the issue is related simply to publishing the news," TAP quoted Ben Saida as saying.
The case has raised fears among secular Tunisians that the Islamist-led government will increasingly seek to censor material it deems offensive to its religious beliefs.
The Tunisian journalists union mounted a strong defence of Ben Saida, complaining about the arrests.
Nejiba Hamrouni, the head of the journalists union, has said that Tunisia's new media law does not say journalists should be jailed in such cases and that the public prosecutor had resorted to the penal code in order to arrest Ben Saida.
"We utterly and completely reject the imprisonment of journalists on the basis of publishing their opinion or a picture," she told Reuters in a recent interview.
The government, led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, came to power in elections in October and is facing strong opposition in secular newspapers.
Its critics have also spoken out against its decision to try a local television channel for showing Persepolis, an Iranian film whose animated depiction of God outraged conservative Salafi Islamists.
Tunisia's once-staid media has enjoyed a new lease of life since the removal of Ben Ali in the first of the Arab Spring protests last year. But activists say the government is now seeking to impose new controls.
The government has repeatedly denied accusations it is trying to stifle the media however. But journalists were beaten by police at an anti-government demonstration by trade unions late last month, prompting renewed uproar. (Reporting by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Andrew Osborn)