Tunisian journalist, rapper get sentence reprieve

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — The lawyer for a Tunisian journalist and a rapper convicted of insulting the justice system said their suspended jail sentences represented a sign of progress in a country trying to come to grips with freedom of expression.

Ghazi Mrabet said Hind Meddeb, a French-Tunisian journalist, and Aymen Fekih, known by his rapper name Men-Ay, were given four month suspended sentences Monday instead of the 18-months imprisonment they may have expected for insulting public servants and offending public morals.

In light of heavier penalties given in the recent past, Mrabet described the suspended sentences handed down by a court in the Tunis suburb of Ben Arous as "a first victory." However, he vowed to still appeal it.

The trial was the latest in a string of suits against musicians on similar charges in a country that overthrew its dictator in 2011 and is trying to set down democratic norms. The music scene, especially rap, has flourished since the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali but they have run into resistance from authorities who have prosecuted a number of musicians for the content of their music.

It was at the trial of artist Alaa Yacoub, known as Weld 15, that the journalist and the rapper got into trouble. Yacoub was imprisoned for two years in June for writing a song called "Police are Dogs." It was during protests at that trial that the pair were arrested for describing the justice system as similar to excrement.

A judge later suspended Yacoub's sentence amid heavy criticism but he was re-arrested after performing the song at a concert in August with a fellow rapper and they were both again convicted in absentia of insulting public servants and received 21 months in prison. Yacoub remains in hiding.

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