Two Tunisian rappers Aladine Yacoubi (aka Weld EL 15) and Ahmed Ben Ahmed (aka Klay BBJ) have been sentenced in absentia to 21 months in jail. A court in Hammamet issued the verdict on 29 August without summoning the two rappers to appear for trial, their lawyer Ghazi Mrabet said yesterday.
“We are surprised by this verdict…Our clients have not been summoned for trial as it is stipulated by law,” Mrabet told the privately-owned radio station Mosaique FM. They were found guilty of “insulting civil servants”, “undermining public decency” and defamation.
On 22 August, police arrested the two rappers as they were on stage performing a rap concert at a music festival in Hammamet and physically assaulted them. They were detained, for “targeting police’ in their songs, the local chief police officer told the collective blog Nawaat.
Last June, Weld El 15 received a two-year jail sentence over his “Police Are Dogs” (Boulicia Kleb) song posted on the internet. The 25 year-old was freed on appeal, when his sentence was reduced to six-month suspended sentence. According to his lawyer, Weld EL15 did not perform Boulicia Kleb at the Hammamet concert.
Klay BBJ is also known for his staunch criticism of police, the judiciary, the Tunisian legal system and the entire political class (the ruling coalition and the opposition). His songs include: iNo Pasaran! , Al Motamaridoun (the rebels) and Sayb15 (Free15) in support of Weld EL 15 when he was in prison.
“I will speak to my clients to challenge this ruling, but jail sentences demonstrate that the relentless campaign against artistic freedom, freedom of expression, continues”, rappers’ lawyer Ghazi Mrabet told AFP. Thameur Mekki, a journalist head of a support group for the rap artists described the verdict as a “revenge”. “The authorities have not understood that these matters should give rise to public debate, not trials and the permanent harassment of rappers”, he added.