Tunisia: Freemuse condemns imprisonment of rapper Weld El 15

Rapper Weld El 15 (real name: Ala Yaacoubi) was sentenced four months imprisonment after he turned himself in to a court in Hammamet on 5 December 2013.

Freemuse condemned the verdict. “Tunisia should live up to international conventions guaranteeing free speech,” said Freemuse Director Ole Reitov.

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Weld El 15 was sentenced in absentia earlier in 2013 after a performance deemed insulting to the police. He was found guilty of “insulting civil servants,” “undermining public decency,” and defamation.

He had been on the run since, but decided to appear for his appeal hearing. The original 21-month prison sentence was reduced to four months.


Violation of international conventions
Freemuse condemned the verdict, reminding the Tunisian government and court system of the findings and recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of culture. In her 2013-report to the UN Human Rights Council she pointed out that many artists have been disproportionately sentenced under the criminal code and the Rapporteur further pointed at the suggestion in the Rabat Plan to use a six-part threshold test for those expressions that are criminally prohibited, implying an analysis of the context, speaker, content or form (which implicitly also refers to “the form of art”), extent of the speech, and likelihood, including imminence.

“The Tunisian court system has violated international conventions as well as recommendations regulating free speech,” said Ole Reitov. He urged the Tunisian authorities to consider the importance rap artists have played as “truth sayers” before and during the popular uprisings in Northern Africa.

“Weld El 15 has described police violence. He is a musical reporter. Is the truth too ugly for the government?” Mr Reitov added.


Appeal filed again
Weld El 15 (also spelled Oueld El 15, “The 15-Year-Old Boy”) was originally given a two-year sentence in June 2013 for his song ‘The Police Are Dogs’. His legal team denied that Weld El 15 should have sung the song at the concert in the resort of Hammamet.

According to a reporter from tunisia-live.net who followed the announcement of the verdict in court, the rapper was immediately ordered to jail and escorted by two officers.

His legal team said after the trial that they would file another appeal. A 48 hours campaign for his release quickly received over 17,000 signatures from all over the world.

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh had earlier denied that freedom of expression was being threatened in Tunisia, noting that the rapper’s original prosecution was “for inciting hatred and calling for the death of police and magistrates”. Minister of Culture Mehdi Mabrouk’s expression of support for Weld El 15 suggests that there is a battle over freedom of speech within the Tunisian government itself.


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