Following a recent crackdown on freedom of speech in Tunisia, two students were recently detained without bail over a satirical song criticizing the police, according to The National.
Posted on Tik Tok and Facebook on May 14th, the video depicts students Youssef Chelbi and Dhia Nsir singing a song that uses satire to critique Tunisia’s contentious drug consumption legislation. Sung to the tune of Babar the Elephant theme, the song details police behavior towards young people and speaks of an individual arrested for allegedly smoking cannabis. A few days after posting this video, Chelbi and Nsir were arrested but later released by a judge on May 18th.
According to the pairs’ lawyer, Iman Souissi, this arrest comes as a shock, as the lyrics do not include any defamatory statements or incitement towards the police. According to Souissi, this arrest could have long term consequences for the young students, as they face up to a year of imprisonment that would hinder their ability to take their upcoming final exams scheduled to commence on May 19th. With the students’ trial set for May 23rd, it is apparent that their futures remain uncertain.
Amidst an ongoing stricture of freedom of speech in Tunisia, the decision to detain Chelbi and Nsir is emblematic of the prevailing situation, with over 20 opposition figures currently incarcerated. Adding to the concerning state of affairs, an appeal court recently issued a five-year prison sentence to a local journalist and opposition leader, Rached Ghannouchi, who has been sentenced to one year in prison on incitement charges and a complaint by the police.
Though President Kais Saied has repeatedly denied allegations of deliberately targeting freedoms in the country, it is worth noting that Mr. Saied took the significant step of dissolving the country’s parliament in July 2021, leading to substantial changes in the political system that have effectively consolidated more power in his hands.