TUNIS (Reuters) - A Tunisian court has sentenced a rap singer to two years in jail in absentia for insulting the police in a case likely to fuel debate over free speech under the Islamist-led government.
The singer, known as Weld el 15, is on the run. Two of his associates, singers Mohamed Hedi Belgueyed and Sabrine Klibi, were in court when they received suspended sentences of six months each, a Justice Ministry source said on Friday.
Belgueyed and Klibi were arrested earlier this month for a music video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6owW_Jv5ng4) in which lyrics sung by Weld el 15 describe police as dogs and accuse them of using violence unjustifiably.
The two men asked the judge to pardon them before the sentences were handed down at Thursday's court proceedings.
"I was only using the language of the police. They have harassed me verbally and physically. As an artist, the only way I could answer them is through art. I gave them a violent art," Weld el 15 said in a video posted on Facebook.
Secular groups say freedom of creativity and expression are threatened under a coalition led by Tunisia's moderate Islamist Ennahda party, a charge the government denies.
In particular, they accuse authorities of failing to prevent attacks by militant Islamist Salafis on cultural institutions and individuals. Salafis disrupted several concerts and plays last year, saying they violated Islamic principles.
They also ransacked the U.S. embassy in September during worldwide Muslim protests over an Internet video.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara)