Tunisia: Left-wing rapper, Klay BBJ, acquitted on appeal

Small but important victory for freedom of speech

CWI Tunisia

The left-wing Tunisian rapper, Ahmed Ben Ahmed, alias Klay BBJ – who was initially condemned, in absentia, to 21 months imprisonment for songs allegedly “insulting officials and public morals” – was acquitted by an appeal court on 17 October.

Klay and fellow rapper Weld El 15 (Alaa Yaacoubi) were violently arrested on stage at a concert in the eastern town of Hammamet on 22 August.

Weld El 15 was beaten up by the police in front of the crowd. After his release, he went to hospital because of serious injuries.

Klay was beaten up in police custody. Both were released but police confiscated their identity cards.

On 29 August, they were charged and tried in absentia on charges of having “assaulted an officer on duty”, “attacked public morals” and “slanders”. They were not informed in advance of the charges or the day of their court case.

Weld El 15 had already been given a two-year sentence in June for a song called Boulicia El Kleb (The Police Are Dogs), but was released in July following public outrage and solidarity protests.

In February 2013, when Klay BBJ was in Morocco, his mother received a ‘visit’ by two plain clothes police officers who warned that Klay should “stop producing songs talking about politics”.

The lawyer said that Weld El 15, who has been on the run since his conviction, would now also appeal.

Supporters of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) around the world expressed outrage at the conviction of these young politically engaged artists.

A rap song produced by CWI supporters from five different countries demanded the charges be dropped.

A letter signed by 12 left MEPs at the initiative of Socialist Party Ireland MEP Paul Murphy, has contributed to Klay’s release.

The CWI welcome this important victory, part of the on-going battle in Tunisia against the attempts at curbing freedom of speech and silencing critical voices.

We also welcome the recent initiative of Tunisian rappers to form a national trade union to defend their rights against state 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 Ennahda regime has been using the penal code and methods inherited from the old dictatorial regime of Ben Ali to deal with opponents – police brutality, torture, arbitrary arrests, attacks on journalists, and political assassinations.

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

A national strike was staged on 3 September by the National Union of Tunisian Journalists in state-owned radio stations.

This was against arbitrary appointments by the governing party Ennahda at the top of these media outlets, to defend the freedom of the press and against police censorship.

A battle has been won, but the struggle must go on! As Klay BBJ said in an open letter he wrote from prison: “Freedom of expression in this country is limited. I will always say the right word, and never curb my head down…No Pasaran!”

A video of the police operation during the concert can be seen at: youtube.com/watch?v=ZDpPkV6ClPc&feature=share&list=UU2pdtLtVt8z3Fhx28Rkl4WQ