Tunis – A Tunisian rapper was handed a two-year jail sentence on Thursday for insulting the police in a song, an AFP journalist reported, with the court ruling sparking clashes between his supporters and police.
Ala Yaacoub, better known by his rap name “Weld El 15”, was being retried at the same court in a Tunis suburb that had convicted him in absentia in March, after he handed himself him in to face justice.
As the judge read out the verdict, shouts of protest erupted in the court room from his supporters who were swiftly expelled by police, with some of them beaten outside the building.
There was evidence of tear gas outside the court house, but it was not clear who had fired it. The police blamed friends of the singer.
“The sentence is very tough for an artist who decided of his own accord to face justice,” said Yaacoub’s lawyer Ghazi Mrabet.
“It is particularly unfair that no text exists for suppressing a work of art.”
Yaacoub, who was in hiding, was given a two-year jail sentence in March after posting a rap video called “The Police are Dogs” on the Internet.
He later turned himself in.
The lawyer said he was charged with conspiracy to commit violence against public officials, and insulting the police, offences punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Before the trial opened on Thursday, Yaacoub had said he was afraid and criticised the authorities for not respecting freedom of speech.
“I am afraid because in a country like Tunisia the law is not applied; you can expect anything,” he told AFP.
“In the song, I used the same terms that the police used to speak about the youth. The police have to respect citizens if they want to be respected,” Yaacoub added.
In the video the singer is heard saying: “Police, magistrates, I’m here to tell you one thing, you dogs; I’ll kill police instead of sheep; Give me a gun I’ll shoot them.”
Ahead of the trial in March, in which four others were handed prison sentences but later released, the interior ministry said the song’s lyrics were “unethical, abusive and threatening” towards pubic officials.
Several cases related to freedom of expression have sparked outrage in Tunisia since the January 2011 revolution, and activists have often accused the ruling Islamist party Ennahda of seeking to muzzle them.
In April 2012, two youths were jailed for seven and a half years for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook.
On Wednesday, three European members of the radical women’s protest group Femen were jailed for four months for staging a topless demonstration in Tunis in support of a detained Tunisian activist. – AFP
[EXCERPT of Summary] On May 31, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings hosted Rached Ghannouchi, co-founder and president of Tunisia’s Nahda Party, for a special address on the future of Tunisian democracy.