Tunisian rapper jailed for six months: Judge

AFP , Thursday 26 Sep 2013

Several dozen youths gathered outside the court in the early afternoon, shouting 'Free Klay!'

Tunisian rapper Klay BBJ was jailed for six months Thursday for songs judged insulting by the authorities, a verdict his supporters slammed as a sign of the Islamist-led government's growing intolerance.

"We have decided on a sentence of six months in prison, to begin immediately," Judge Belgacem Chaieb ruled after a trial lasting less than 90 minutes.

Klay BBC, real name Ahmed Ben Ahmed, said in the hearing that he was being tried for criticising the government, led by Islamist party Ennahda which is frequently accused of trying to stifle freedom of expression won in the 2011 revolution.

"Our songs criticise the current situation in Tunisia and the government, no more and no less. I am among the rappers most critical of the government and that is why (the authorities) are after me," he told the judge.

"Have pity on us!" the rapper's mother shouted inside the courtroom.

His lawyer said he would appeal the verdict.

"It is a new injustice targeting artists. I will appeal and continue the fight," Ghazi Mrabet told AFP.

His client was on trial for insulting officials, undermining public morals and defamation in songs he sang alongside fellow rapper Weld El 15 at a concert last month in the eastern town of Hammamet, where Thursday's trial took place.

The two young men were given 21-month jail terms in absentia at the end of August, without being summoned to court or even informed of the trial.

Klay BBJ had decided to contest the earlier ruling while Weld El 15, who has been on the run since his conviction, has said he is a victim of judicial harassment and does not plan to appeal.

Weld El 15, whose real name is Ala Yaacoubi, was jailed in June for a controversial song he wrote called "The Police are Dogs", and freed on appeal in July after his two-year term was reduced on appeal to a six-month suspended sentence.

Supporters of Klay BBJ condemned Thursday's ruling, saying it was proof that the authorities were determined to suppress freedom of expression less than three years after the uprising that toppled the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring.

"This is just a political trial. It's a scandal to put an artist in prison for his songs. It's another step towards the establishment of a new dictatorship in this country," said Thameur Mekki, who runs a support group for musicians pursued by the authorities.

"They want to humiliate us one by one, to crush all our hopes. I fear for our country," said Mohamed Amine Hamzaoui, another Tunisian rapper, visibly emotional after Thursday's ruling.

Several dozen youths gathered outside the court in the early afternoon, shouting "Free Klay!"

Since the rise to power of Tunisia's Islamist-led government nearly two years ago, trials especially of musicians and journalists have sparked a wave of criticism -- of the police the judiciary and the government itself.

Rights groups say the draconian penal code inherited from the regime of Ben Ali, which is still in force, is used extensively to stifle criticism.

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