Two artists have been arrested and an investigation launched in connection with the music video “Cops are Dogs” by rapper Weld El 15.
The video’s director, Mohamed Hedi Belgueyed, as well as actress Sabrine Klibi, were arrested after its March 3 release. Weld El 15 is wanted by police for hate speech and incitement to violence and murder, but he has not been apprehended.
The Ministry of Interior posted an update on its official Facebook page Tuesday that the general prosecutor has launched an investigation into the matter.
The Facebook page confirmed that two suspects were arrested on Sunday and taken today to the Court of First Instance in Ben Arous. The court has decided to keep them in prison until their trial, it reported.
The arrests have raised concerns regarding the state of freedom of expression in Tunisia.
In the video, which features footage of security agents, Weld El 15 calls police dogs and says they use violence unjustifiably.
An unofficial Facebook page purportedly administered by “Police of Tunis” posted mugshots of Klibi and Belgueyed along with pictures of the cameras allegedly confiscated from them. The pictures sparked outrage among many Facebook users and activists, who considered their posting a breach of the confidentiality of the investigation.
The pictures were accompanied by comments made by the page’s administrator that the actress and film director had confessed to their involvement in the video and had been tricked into shooting it.
Facebook users launched pages to support Klibi and Belgueyed, such as Free Sabrine Klibi, and called for a protest.
Youth members of Al Joumhouri party published a statement in which they denounced the way in which the suspects were treated as well as the posting of their photos, which they found demeaning and counterproductive to the purpose of the police force.
“This is a shameful incident,” said journalist and blogger Amine Mtiraoui. “They posted their photos online with their full names and addresses on a page that is not even official.
“Then the police left death threats on these pictures, threatening the rapper, he added.
Asma Gharbi, lawyer and law professor at the Tunis law school, said that posting pictures of the confiscated cameras and mugshots before the completion of the investigation is a violation of the investigation’s integrity.
Gharbi added that the Tunisian penal code considers insulting a civil servant a crime. Act 125 specifies that any verbal or physical harassment of a civil servant and the like is punishable with a year in prison and a fine of 120 dinars ($75). Additionally, Act 128 states that any claims made publicly or in the media accusing civil servants of participation in illegal activities without proof warrant the same punishment.
Lawyer Hassen Lotfi said that the police force abides by its own internal regulations when dealing with such cases.
Weld El 15 gave an interview last night to Nawaat in which he asserted he would not turn himself in for fear of reprisals from police. He also called on authorities to drop charges against Klibi and Belgueyed.
“First, I want to say that Sabrine is just an actress that she was executing my vision, and I borrowed the camera of the guy, who didn’t even film the video,” he said. “I wasn’t financed by any companies or countries.”
Weld El 15 went on to explain the “violent” nature of his song’s lyrics.
“What I wanted to say to people, who claim I incited violence, [is that] I was only using the language of the police. They harassed me verbally and physically. As an artist, the only way I could answer them is through art. I gave them a violent art,” he said.
He went on to criticize the state of freedom of expression in post-revolutionary Tunisia.
“I would not throw stones,” he said. “I expressed my opinion, thinking there is freedom of expression. It turns out I am mistaken. Before, we were afraid to speak and risk prison. Now, after the revolution, I am going to jail for expressing my opinion.”
The rapper also expressed his fear of the Tunisian judicial system.
“I am not going to lie and say I’m not afraid,” he said. “I received death threats from police on their pages. I am afraid I wouldn’t reach the court in good shape if police got to me first. I don’t have confidence in the justice system either.”