Tunisia TV satirists say they win 'insult' case on appeal

AFP , Wednesday 18 May 2016

A Tunisian court Wednesday overturned a six-month suspended jail term for a popular comedian, a television host and a colleague for identity theft, fraud and insulting the head of state.

"The court of appeal decided a dismissal in our favour. We expected this decision because the only thing we did was investigative journalism," TV host Moez Ben Gharbia told AFP.

Ben Gharbia, satirist Wassim Lahrissi known as "Migalo" and their colleague Abdelhak Toumi were originally sentenced in March 2015.

Ben Gharbia had allegedly asked Migalo to use his impersonation skills to imitate President Beji Caid Essebsi during a telephone conversation with a prominent businessman.

Their lawyers had argued that the trio were "journalists who were investigating a corruption" case.

Essebsi won Tunisia's first free presidential election in December 2014, capping a transition to democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

As part of that transition, Tunisia adopted a new constitution guaranteeing the right to freedom of conscience and expression.

An offence against the president is punishable by three years in prison, misrepresentation of identity by two years and fraud by five years.

At the time of the original trial, Essebsi's office denied any involvement in the legal proceedings, saying "freedom of the press and expression are acquisitions the president... is committed to defending, he being its principal guarantor."

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