The trial of Tunisian graffiti artists Oussama Bouagila and Chahine Berriche was postponed to March 27 as requested by some of the case’s defense lawyers, confirmed Bochra Belhaj Hmida, a member of the artists’ legal team, to Tunisia Live.
Bouagila and Berriche, members of the activist street-art group Zwelwa, were arrested on November 3, 2012 in the southeastern industrial town of Gabes as they were writing on a wall: “the people want rights for the poor.” Their trial was scheduled for today, and the two have been released since the arrest pending the results of the forthcoming trial.
The graffiti artists have been charged with “disrupting public order” under Article 121 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes the publication, distribution, or sale of information that detracts from public order or public morals. If found guilty, both men could face up to five years in prison.
The trial of Zwewla has caught the attention of many international organizations, including Amnesty International, which expressed in a press release its stance against the possible imprisonment of the two graffiti artists.
“These men should not be penalized for what their graffiti said. It is unjustifiable to threaten them with prison terms simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, in the press release.
Amnesty International believes that Tunisian authorities repeatedly resort to Article 121 of the Penal Code to suppress freedom of expression just as the former regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali did.
“Article 121 of the Penal Code is the same legal arsenal, which was used by the ousted president Ben Ali. There is a defect in the Tunisian legal system,” Lotfi Azouz, director of Amnesty International’s office in Tunisia, said to Tunisia Live.
“Using such an article, many journalists and bloggers, who expressed peacefully their opinions, were jailed,” he recounted.