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Police, drug law and non-state actors pose threat to artistic freedom in Tunisia

20 October 2016

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COPENHAGEN, 20 OCTOBER 2016 | In Tunisia, the country’s 2014 constitution guarantees the right to artistic freedom. Despite such guarantees, artistic freedom is not fully upheld and protected. Artists, often rappers, are exposed to threats, assaults, prosecution and imprisonment by Tunisian authorities, terrorist groups and other non-state actors, according to a new stakeholder submission to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process by Freemuse. The report makes six recommendations, including replacing vague provisions in the Penal Code used to arbitrarily imprison artists.

Rapper Weld El 15 was sentenced to two years in prison in 2013 on charges of insulting the police in a music video. Earlier that year, actress Sabrine Klibi and cameraman Mohamed Hedi Belgueyed were both sentenced to six months in prison for their participation in the project. They were charged under five vague articles of the Penal Code that punish those who defame police officers and contribute to civil disobedience.

Tunisia’s controversial drug law, known as Law 52, has also been abused to silence rappers critical of society and the police. Two years after his arrest and prison sentence for insulting public officers, rapper Klay BBJ was arrested again in October 2015 accused of consuming cannabis, only to subsequently have the prosecutor order his release. A new draft drug law includes significant improvements, but also raises new concerns, specifically that the new provision criminalizing the act of “public incitement to commit drug-related offenses” could be used to prosecute rappers and other artists who sing or express themselves creatively about drugs and drug use.

Non-state actors and terrorist groups pose separate threats to artistic freedom in Tunisia. On 18 March 2015, militants attacked the Bardo Museum in capital city Tunis, killing more than 20 and injuring around 50. Terrorist organisation Da’esh claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Tunisian Musicians Syndicate banned singer Hana al Zughlami (aka Tunisian Naglaa) in March 2016 from working in the country under accusations she promoted vice and immorality in her latest video and single ‘La Ykhebbesh Wala Ydebbish’. The syndicate also stated that legal action would be taken against anyone who will collaborate with the artist.

“Strong constitutional guarantees are not enough,” said Freemuse Executive Director Ole Reitov. “No matter if the threat comes from the police or non-state actors, such as terrorist groups, it is the Tunisian government’s responsibility to secure a safe environment for all those engaged with the arts, including audiences.”

Based on the international conventions ratified by Tunisia and previous recommendations made by UN member states, including Canada, Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and the United States during Tunisia’s 2012 UPR, this stakeholder report recommends that Tunisia replaces unclear and vague provisions in the Penal Code, abolishes criminal defamation laws and takes measures to secure the drug law is not used by police to quell artistic expressions. Furthermore, the report recommends that the government takes measures to secure a safe environment for all those engaged with the arts, including a comprehensive strategy to eliminate threats, patriarchal attitudes and negative stereotypes of women artists.

The report was filed on 22 September ahead of Tunisia’s third cycle UPR – the UN system’s official mechanism for reviewing all member states’ human rights records in cycles of four-and-a-half years. The review will take place in Geneva in May 2017. Freemuse also filed a separate joint UPR stakeholder report with Morocco-based civil society organisation Racines detailing how Moroccan artists are persecuted and imprisoned when crossing “red lines”.

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» The full stakeholder report on artistic freedom in Tunisia by Freemuse is available here



Freemuse is an independent international membership organization advocating and defending the right to artistic freedom worldwide. Freemuse has held Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2012 and has previously submitted UPR stakeholder reports on artistic freedom in Belarus, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey, United States and Zimbabwe.      


Media contact
Dwayne Mamo, Web Editor
tel +45 3332 1027, email: dwayne.mamo@freemuse.org

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