Tunisia: Left-wing rapper, Klay BBJ, acquitted by Appeal Court

A small but important victory in the ongoing struggle for freedom of speech

The left-wing Tunisian rapper, Ahmed Ben Ahmed, alias Klay BBJ, who was initially condemned, in abstentia, to 21 months imprisonment for songs allegedly "insulting officials and public morals" (see our article here) was acquitted by an appeal court on Thursday.

Klay and his fellow rapper ’Weld El 15’ (Alaa Yaacoubi), after having been violently arrested on stage and physically abused by the police following a concert in the eastern town of Hammamet, in August, had been both given a 21-month jail term at the end of that month, without being summoned to the court or even being informed of their own trial.

Klay decided to contest the ruling, while Weld El 15 has been on the run since his conviction. Klay had gone through a first appeal court on 26 September, which decided on a reduced sentence of six months prison, to begin immediately. The rapper’s lawyer appealed the new verdict, which finally led to the recent acquittal on Thursday. The lawyer said that Weld El 15 would now also appeal.

The militants and supporters of the CWI around the world expressed outrage at the conviction of these young engaged artists (see on this link, for example, a rap song produced by CWI supporters from 5 different countries demanding the drop of the charges on Klay BBJ and Weld El 15).

There is no doubt that the pressure built up against this condemnation, which has included a letter signed by 12 left MEP’s at the initiative of Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy, has contributed to Klay’s release. The CWI welcome this important victory, part of the ongoing battle taking place in Tunisia against the repeated attempts at curbing freedom of speech and silencing critical voices.

We also warmly welcome the recent initiative of Tunisian rappers to have formed a national trade union to defend their rights against the State’s repression. This can encourage linking the defence of the rights of artists, as well as the struggle of the youth from the poor suburbs, from which the vast majority of Tunisian rappers come from, to the country’s organised workers’ movement.

The fight goes on!

The regime of Ennahda has been relying extensively on the penal code inherited from the old regime of Ben Ali, which is still in force, and has reproduced very similar patterns in order to deal with opponents – police brutality, torture, arbitrary arrests, attacks on journalists, and even political assassinations.

Even during the last appeal court session that decided on the fate of Klay BBJ, journalists and representatives of NGO’s who had come to attend the court, such as Human Rights Watch, were prevented by the police entering the tribunal. Meanwhile, dozens of musicians and other artists remain in jail or in hiding.

These examples show that if a battle has been won, the struggle must go on! As Klay BBJ said in an open letter he wrote when he was still in prison: "Freedom of expression in this country is limited. I will always say the right word, and never curb my head down…No Pasaran!"

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October 2013