Tunisian rap artist Weld El 15 lost his appeal on Thursday, June 13.
After three months on the run, the rapper hoped to overturn the conviction handed down for his song "Boulicia Kleb." But the Ben Arous judge ruled that the rap song critical of the police merited a two-year prison sentence.
"The sentence is very tough for an artist who decided of his own accord to face justice," the musician's lawyer Ghazi Mrabet told AFP.
The verdict angered supporters of Weld El 15 (real name Ala Yaacoub). After they were expelled by police from the courtroom, scuffles erupted outside the building. Security forces reportedly used tear gas on the crowd.
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Rights activist and blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, who was among the artist's supporters caught up in the melee after the verdict, confirmed on her Facebook page that at least three people were arrested.
"This is a trial of the freedom of expression and revolution," Asma Laabidi, a young blogger and activist, told Magharebia. "This is the biggest proof that the police state is coming back and is hitting real hard. The trial of Weld El 15 is a trial of all those who said no to the repressive regime."
"They want to subjugate Tunisian young people, starting with the rapper and activists, because they are exposing them and condemning their violations," she continued.
Young singer Bendir Man chimed in on Facebook: "The sentence for burning a foreign embassy is less severe than singing a song cursing the police!"
Members of the Tunisian opposition were also quick to condemn Thursday's court ruling, comparing it to the two-year suspended jail sentences given to 20 Islamists involved in the attack on the US embassy in Tunis last year, which have been criticised as excessively lenient.
"Weld El 15 got two years and there were suspended sentences for the attack on the US embassy, I feel bad for our youth at this critical time," Ettakatol MP Karima Souid posted on Twitter. Journalist Chehrazade Akacha also pointed out the disparity in penalties for crimes.
"In post-revolution Tunisian, a rapper who describes the police as dogs is sentenced to two years in prison; Amina Tyler, who wrote on the wall of cemetery, receives a six-month prison term, while those who burned a foreign embassy, killed police and described them as tyrants and infidels receive a one-year suspended prison term," she said.
"This is because the security forces fear those with beards," she added. "Where's the independence of judiciary and republican security which the Tunisian people have demanded?"
The National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), meanwhile, has demanded an investigation into the violence outside the Ben Arous courthouse during the rapper's trial.
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