Tunisia: Rapper and video team charged for hate speech, two arrested

14 March 2013

Mohamed Belgueyed, the owner of a video camera, and actress Sabrine Klibi were taken into custody on 10 March 2013 for their connection to the new music video ‘Cops are Dogs’ by Tunisian rapper Weld El 15. The video was uploaded to YouTube on 3 March 2013:

The rapper, Weld El 15, (real name: Ala Yaakoubi) is wanted by the police for hate speech, but has not been arrested and publicly refuses to turn himself in to authorities. In a tv-interview on 11 March he said: “First, I want to say that Sabrine is just an actress – she was executing my vision, and I borrowed the camera of the guy [Mohamed Belgueyed], who didn’t even film the video,” he said. “I wasn’t financed by any companies or countries.”

Tunisian artists reported that artistic expression is again under attack in the country. The newspaper Tunisia Live and the Qatar-based media house Al Jazeera confirmed this as they wrote that the artists’ case has renewed concerns over freedom of expression in the country, and it is raising questions over how police handled the arrest.

Weld El 15 wrote himself on social media: “Oh glorious protectors of this country. Are you seriously using these ugly methods to lie about and deny what was in the lyrics of the songs? … Oh great lions and protectors of the country…now that you are holding these two young people in jail and took away their cameras as weapons of mass destruction we can officially sleep in peace. Thanks to you we are now in good hands. And by the way: who killed Shokri Belaid?”
“A threat to national security”
Tunisian authorities were quoted as saying that the song contains hate speech that could incite violence. The Tunisian Ministry of the Interior sent updates on the case via their official Facebook page on 12 March 2013, calling the video a threat to national security.

“The publication of a rap video on YouTube under the name “Police are Dogs” featured immoral phrases and references, public slander, and threats to security agents and judges and requires criminal punishment. Public prosecutors authorised Ben Arous security units to open an investigation on the subject.
Security investigations have enabled the identification of participants in the preparation and publication of this video clip, maybe a band of eight. On Sunday, March 10, 2013…a young man and a young woman, were detained by order of the public prosecutor. The suspects were taken on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 to the lower court in Ben Arous which decided to place them in prison to await their trial.”

In the video, which features footage of security agents, Weld El 15 calls police ‘dogs’ and says they use violence unjustifiably.
Photos on Facebook
Facebook users launched pages to support Klibi and Belgueyed, such as ‘Free Sabrine Klibi’, and called for a protest.

Youth members of Al Joumhouri party published a statement in which they denounced the way in which the suspects were treated as well as the posting of their photos on Facebook. An unofficial Facebook page purportedly administered by ‘Police of Tunis’ posted mugshots of Klibi and Belgueyed after their arrest, along with death threats as well as photos of the video camera equipment which had confiscated from them. The pictures sparked outrage among many Facebook users and activists, who considered their posting a breach of the confidentiality of the investigation. The Al Joumhouri party members said they found demeaning and counterproductive to the purpose of the police force.

Nabil Farhat commented: “To stop the citizens who participated in the video clip is unwarranted and unacceptable. Music, art, writing are not under the authority of the state institutions… Compared to the experience of other countries, rap songs mostly criticise police directly. If the police in America, for example, stopped all of the songs against them, they would have stopped what we call ‘rap’ in the first place.

Weld El 15 gave an interview on 11 March 2013 to Nawaat in which he asserted he would not turn himself in for fear of reprisals from police. He also called on authorities to drop charges against Klibi and Belgueyed.

He explained the “violent” nature of his song’s lyrics.

“What I wanted to say to people, who claim I incited violence, [is that] I was only using the language of the police. They harassed me verbally and physically. As an artist, the only way I could answer them is through art. I gave them a violent art,” he said.

He went on to criticize the state of freedom of expression in post-revolutionary Tunisia.

“I would not throw stones,” he said. “I expressed my opinion, thinking there is freedom of expression. It turns out I am mistaken. Before, we were afraid to speak and risk prison. Now, after the revolution, I am going to jail for expressing my opinion.”

The rapper also expressed his fear of the Tunisian judicial system:

“I am not going to lie and say I’m not afraid,” he said. “I received death threats from police on their pages. I am afraid I wouldn’t reach the court in good shape if police got to me first. I don’t have confidence in the justice system either.”
Al Jazeera – 12 March 2013:
Artists arrested in Tunisia
Director and actress detained for ‘Cops are Dogs’ rap video.
Tunisia Live – 12 March 2013:
Tunisian Artists Arrested Over “Cops are Dogs” Rap Video
Two artists have been arrested and an investigation launched in connection with the music video “Cops are Dogs” by rapper Weld El 15. By Roua Khlifi

Ahram Online / Reuters – 13 March 2013:
Tunisia jails two for song describing police as dogs
Two rappers on trial for calling police dogs in a video

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