Tunisian rapper in court to hear sentence for insulting police

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 13, 2013 2:43 PM

TUNIS (Reuters) - A Tunisian rapper who was sentenced to two years in jail in absentia in March for insulting the police was handed the same punishment on Thursday after he surrendered to the authorities.

The ruling, which critics called another blow to free speech in Tunisia, came a day after three European feminists were jailed for four months for staging a topless demonstration in the capital Tunis against the Islamist led-government.

Ala Yaacoub, known by his rap name "Weld El 15", had been on the run since March but turned himself in earlier on Thursday. He has accused the police of using unnecessary force, and in a message posted on the internet earlier this year, said:

"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 violent art."

In the video posted on YouTube that triggered the court case, the singer can be heard saying: "Police, magistrates, I'm here to tell you one thing, you dogs; I'll kill police instead of sheep; Give me a gun I'll shoot them."

After the verdict, dozens of the rapper's supporters protested inside the courtroom, and when police forced them outside, scuffles ensued.

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Secular groups say freedom of 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; editing by Mike Collett-White)