Tunisia rapper acquitted on appeal

AFP, Saturday 19 Oct 2013

'This verdict gives me hope for Tunisia's youth,' rapper Klay BBJ says after sentence annulled in controversial free speech case

Rapper Klay BBJ, jailed for six months for allegedly insulting Tunisian officials in his songs, was acquitted on appeal Thursday, in one of several cases which have angered rights groups.

"The court has decided to reject the accusations and to annul the sentencing of Ahmed Ben Ahmed," known as Klay BBJ, the judge announced at the end of the appeal hearing in Grombalia, south of Tunis.

The grounds for his acquittal were not immediately made public.

"Finally I can breathe again. This was really suffocating me. I was scared for Tunisia's youth but this verdict gives me hope," said fellow rapper Mohamed Amin Hamzaoui, one of many who travelled to Grombalia for the hearing.

"This verdict shows the importance of mobilising civil society and media and free speech activists," said Thameur Mekki, head of a support committee for rappers facing trial.

The hearing itself only started once the judge reversed a decision to keep out the public after the defence had threatened not to put in a plea.

Klay BBJ was found guilty on September 26 of insulting officials, undermining public morals and defamation in songs he sang alongside fellow rapper Weld El 15 during a concert the previous month at a sea resort south of Tunis.

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 has been on the run.

But their lawyer, Ghazi Mrabet, told AFP that Weld El 15 would now also appeal. "We will file an appeal very quickly so he is judged by the same court," he said.

Since an Islamist-led government took power after Tunisia's 2011 revolution, trials of musicians and journalists have sparked charges from rights groups that the authorities are stifling freedom of expression.

Two other rappers face trial in November over clashes which broke out at a court in June when Weld El 15 was initially convicted.

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