Tunisia rapper Weld El 15 acquitted on appeal

The rapper had been jailed and then freed on appeal over the controversial song he wrote called “The Police are Dogs”

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Tunisian rapper Weld El 15 was acquitted on appeal of singing songs deemed insulting to the police and is to be freed later Thursday, his lawyer Ghazi Mrabet told AFP.

The ruling comes amid ongoing human rights concerns under Tunisia's Islamist-led coalition government, almost three years after a popular uprising ousted veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben and triggered revolutions across the region.

“The court in Grombalia has decided to acquit Weld El 15. He will be freed today” Thursday, said the lawyer after his client appealed a four-month jail term handed down at the start of December.

“This ruling proves that a part of the justice system is independent, and I welcome this kind of verdict,” Mrabet said.

Weld El 15 -- real name Ala Yacoubi -- has been held in La Mornaguia prison in a Tunis suburb since being convicted on December 5.

The court had found him guilty of an affront to public decency and insulting behaviour towards public servants in his songs, and ordered him taken straight to the cells to serve his sentence.

At the time, Weld 15's lawyer said he would appeal, expressing concern that his client might “suffer bodily harm in prison”.

For his release to be processed, an order to that effect must be sent to the prison, a procedure that can take several hours.

Weld El 15 and fellow rapper Klay BBJ were originally convicted without even being notified of a trial having taken place.

The charges against them related to songs they performed at a concert in Hammamet east of Tunis last summer.

Klay BBJ has since been retried twice and was finally acquitted in October.

News of the verdict was welcomed by Thameur Mekki, who heads a support committee for the two rappers.

“This is good news. The struggle we launched nine months ago has made the Tunisian judiciary realise that there is much at stake with such a trial,” he said.

Since the Islamist-led government took power after Tunisia's 2011 revolution, trials of musicians and journalists have multiplied, sparking charges from rights groups that the authorities are stifling freedom of expression.

Attempts to reform the judiciary and security forces in the three years since Ben Ali's ouster have largely stalled.

Both musicians had previously rejected the charges against them, and four witnesses testified at the retrial to support the Weld El 15's claims.

“The public demanded a controversial song. But I refused, in a gesture of conciliation towards the police, but a large number of police climbed onto the stage and assaulted me,” he told the judge in December.

The rapper had been jailed and then freed on appeal over the controversial song he wrote called “The Police are Dogs”.

But he has repeatedly denied that he had sung it or that he had made obscene gestures toward police at the concert.

He counter-charged that the police had roughed him up when they arrested him after the concert.

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