How freedom of expression is oppressed through financial, moral and psychological pressure and damages is Tunisian rapper Hamadi Dia’s story. Today, Freemuse publishes his account of what he is going through because of the music and lyrics he produces.
By Shaima Aly, Freemuse
“Those groups succeeded in their mission to shut me up and get me away from my local community,” rapper Hamadi Dia told Freemuse.
After eight months, authorities still are to investigate the attack on the Tunisian rapper Hamadi Dia. He was severely beaten on 10 November 2014 in El Reqab city, central Tunisia in Sidi Bouzaid governorate – the cradle of the Tunisian revolution. Five men forced the rapper to accompany them to a barber shop where his hair was cut by force. Dia was escorted, again by force, to a mosque where he was obliged to pray, and then they recited for him the religious roquia – chants recited by Sheikhs when someone believed to be haunted by demons – according to local news reports.
The group also informed him that his clothing and hair are improper and he cannot act as he wants, therefore, they urged him to repent and join the Islamic groups, according to Turess a local news website.
In an interview with Freemuse, Hamadi Dia explained how he was previously attacked by the radical groups when he released some songs where he criticised those extremists. Dia stated that the first attack against him was on 26 June 2013 by more than 10 radical people who assaulted him, leaving him with marks of severe beating.
Moved to Tunis
Dia told Freemuse that he now lives in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, and will never visit El Reqab again. Despite the fact that he has official singing permission, he is not able to sing in his hometown because of fears to be attacked again.
“I am receiving threats that stop me from coming back. The most recent of them was in April 2015 on my Facebook page,” Dia said.
Dia added that after the attack he filed a formal report at the police station addressed to the State Deputy. After receiving a formal report the police is required to investigate the crime and arrest the offenders within 24 hours, if one or more suspects are identified. According to Dia his complaint was completely ignored.
Violates Tunisian constitution
Ahmed Abidi, the secretary-general of the association ATAC, which is working to defend artists in El Reqab and protect human rights, confirmed that Dia was violently beaten to give up music, and that the radical group forced him to pray in mosque and subjected him to religious roquia.
In an interview with Freemuse, Abidi highlighted the artists’ situation in the city and stresses that the multiple attacks against Dia violates the 42nd chapter of the Tunisian Republic’s Constitution that guarantees freedom of expression.
He added that unfortunately, police did not proceed with the compliant submitted by Dia to investigate the accident. Abidi stated that the people and artistic associations in Sidi Bouzaid have been witnessing escalation in terrorism acts and hostility by radical groups. According to Abidi, the family of Dia was also threatened in order to make him quit performing in his hometown. The authorities in Tunisia, according to Abidi, are reluctant to act when it comes to violence practiced by extremist groups, and the court takes ages, in case an investigation conducted.
“The police station did not take any positive action. Rather, they denied the attack completely. So, finally Dia escaped from the city and that caused him many financial, moral and psychological damages,” Abidi said.
Police reluctant to investigate
Freemuse has reached out to the El Reqab Police Department for a comment, but had not received a response.
Dia’s lawyer Khaled Al Awainia filed a formal complaint at the police station on 12 November 2014 following the attack. According Al Awainia the police has been reluctant to investigate the case and refused to give any updates. The incident indicates the lack of artistic freedom of expression in general, especially in the remote areas in Tunisia, according to Al Awainia.
There is no clear mechanism to protect artists from such violations. The police do not provide protection since the artist is not well known, they only protect famous and affluent artists, according to Al Awainia. “It is time to uncover the hidden cases of local artists, who are under pressure of their society,” told Al Awainia.
Shaima Aly is Freemuse’s MENA region programme officer