Target: President of Tunisia Moncef Marzouki
Goal: Free Alaa Eddine Yaakoubi, who was jailed for criticizing police for human rights abuses, and protect those who criticize state institutions
Alaa Eddine Yaakoubi, better known in Tunisia as Oueld Eld 15, was recently jailed following the release of a song in which he criticized Tunisian police for human rights abuses. He was charged with insulting a public servant and hampering public morality, both crimes with minimum prison sentences in Tunisia. Laws like these have no place in a free society; Alaa Edine Yaakoubi should be pardoned and protections for artists instituted so that no others suffer his fate.
During the trial many of Yaakoubi’s supporters were present in the courtroom. Upon learning of their allegiance, police ushered them out of the courtroom violently, severely beating several of them. In addition, video taken by Emine Mtiraoui shows police beating him with batons and attempting to seize his camera following the trial with no apparent cause.
This is merely the latest in a long line of prosecutions by the Tunisian government against artists, writers and journalists. Two bloggers were sentenced to seven and a half years of jail time for their writings, while more recently a television network was fined 2,300 dinars (approximately $1,490) for running Persepolis, a film denounced as blasphemous and encouraging criticism of the state.
Under international standards, defamation laws do not apply to the state or state entities. According to the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, “Criminal defamation laws may not be used to protect abstract or subjective notions or concepts, such as the State, national symbols, national identity, cultures, schools of thought, religions, ideologies or political doctrines.” No one should be prosecuted for doing their civic duty and criticizing imperfections in their government, least of all a harmless rapper. Yaakoubi should be freed, and these trials against artists and journalists stopped.
Dear President Moncef Marzouki,
Tunisian police recently jailed popular rapper Alaa Eddine Yaakoubi for a song criticizing the police of Tunisia for their various human rights abuses. However, under international standards as determined by experts in the U.N., the defamation laws he was tried under cannot be applied by the state as it is an abstract concept, not an individual. This is also true of the numerous other artists and journalists that have been jailed over the past year.
It is the duty of a citizen to offer criticism to his government. Yaakoubi must be released, and the freedom of speech of other artists and journalists enshrined by Tunisian law.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Kassus via Wikimedia Commons