Tunisia: Tunisian Rappers Sentenced for Insulting Police
Tunis — Tunisian rappers Weld El 15 and Klay BBJ were sentenced in absentia to a year and nine months in prison for defaming the police, their lawyer said on Monday (September 2nd).
The district court in Hammamet issued the sentence on Friday without summoning the defendants, Ghazi Mrabet added.
“This trial proves that the fierce repression of freedom of art and expression continues under the Ennahda-led government,” the attorney said.
Tunisian police stopped the rappers’ performance at the Hammamet International Festival on August 22nd and took them into custody.
Weld El 15 (real name Ala Yaacoub) had a medical certificate issued showing that he needed a 15-day rest after Tunisian police roughed him up while stopping the concert, his lawyer said.
The rapper was previously arrested over his song Boulicia Kleb (“Police are dogs”).
In the video for the song, policemen are seen roughing up demonstrators. It also shows the rapper singing opposite the interior ministry headquarters while dog barking rises.
“I’ve only used the police’s language; they have verbally and physically assaulted me,” Yaacoub commented about his song. “As an artist, the only way available to me to respond to them is to present art.”
“I’ve addressed them with a type of … the language they use with us. The police have to respect citizens if they want citizens to respect them,” he said.
But the song widely angered Tunisian policemen.
Hasen Béji, a 25-year-old policeman, said: “He used obscene phrases that assaulted our dignity and the security institution in general. They have attacked us in the name of freedom of expression, and they deserve that punishment to be an example for others.”
In his turn, Mondher Akkari, a 31-year-old policeman of five years, said, “There is no excuse for insulting policemen; we’re still a part of society.”
“We must deal with respect with each other so we can make progress. The freedom of expression is not like this; art must be in the service of society and we don’t deserve this,” he added.
The incident has revived the debate over freedom of expression in Tunisia under the Islamist government, which some accuse of trying to undermine civil liberties.
However, Prime Minister Ali Larayedh has denied this. In previous press statements, he said the case had nothing to do with freedom of expression, and that the rapper was prosecuted under the law.