The Tunisian poet & scholar Abdelwahab Meddeb forwarded me the following letter by his daughter Hind Meddeb, a cinematographer & journalist. It goes to the heart of the matter of how in Tunisia, the country where it started, the Arab Spring is being shunted toward yet another authoritarian police regime.
This Monday, June 17, I didn’t show up at the police summons…
Yesterday I left Tunisia because I lost faith in the system of justice. A system that incarcerates a rapper for 2 years, guilty of writing a song, and releases those who attacked the US embassy last September.
A few minutes before entering court for his trial, the rapper Weld El 15 said: “I turn myself in today because I need to know if my country is falling back into dictatorship. This is a test. A test for the system of justice. The verdict will tell where we stand today in Tunisia.”
(Here is the link to see the 45-minute documentary directed by Karim Kouki https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2LBQmK81OY)
The verdict fell. The magistrates exited the courtroom. At first I didn’t hear it. I asked. “2 years firm!!” People were screaming. I was in shock. We all vehemently expressed our indignation. The police officers started to push us out violently. One grabbed my arm. I was angry. I told him: “Now I understand the meaning of the song better.” Much later, I learnt that after my arrest, they gazed everyone, including journalists.
The policeman who grabbed me, screamed “you support Weld El 15, you’ll join him in jail.” They locked me in a cell next to my friend Alaa Eddine Yaacoubi, aka Weld El 15. When he saw me arrested, he panicked. Him worrying about me calmed me down. I apologized. “As a journalist, I shouldn’t have express my opinion like that, but Weld El 15 is a friend and I was carried away by the emotion.” They didn’t accept my excuses. They told me I would spend 2 years in prison with my friend Alaa. My reaction was an insult not only to the police but also to the judge. It was punishable of 2 years in jail. The same judge will make sure to lock me up.
I didn’t protest that the judge had already left the courtroom.
“It’s not because you’re a journalist or French that you won’t be punished. You’ll pay for your support to Weld El 15. Tonight, you’ll sleep in prison”.
I was terrified. I apologized more, tried to reason with them, but they refused to listen. I was left there for three hours. I could just hear more people getting arrested, beaten up. I could hear the screams, the violence.
Suddenly, they came back with a different tone, saying I will be released. They just needed to take me to the police station for the record. We were six in the police van. Among the people arrested, my friends the rapper Mr Moustafa and the rapper turned graphic designer Ayman Mohammed. When the police saw that we knew each others, they separated us.
At the police station, they isolated me to hear my deposition. They presented me a document written in classical arabic. I can’t read Arabic, I only speak the dialect. I refused to sign, asking to contact a lawyer or someone from my family that could translate it for me. They read it to me, translating it into dialectal arabic. I contested several points. But they refused to change anything, repeating “if you don’t sign, we bring you back to the cell.” The pressure was unbearable. I gave in. I am inexperienced, naive. I signed a paper I couldn’t read. They didn’t even give me a copy. Only a convocation to appear at the police station Monday, June 17 at 8:30. According to the document, I will then be driven to the prosecutor.
I was out. It was 7pm. I got arrested at 2:30.
Weld El 15’s lawyer, Ghazi Mrabet, my friends, the bloggers Azyz Amami and Lina Ben Mhenni and the rapper Abdesslem Naouali aka Phenix joined me few minutes later.
The next day, I asked Ghazi Mrabet and Maitre Abada Kefi to take my defense at the hearing on Monday June 17. We decided that we would have a common defense with the 6 other detainees.
Given these procedural flaws and the lack of information on the charges that were brought against me; given the recent decisions of the Tunisian justice indulgent with the Salafists, fierce with artists, incarcerating a rapper for a song, while leaving free those who have rampaged embassies (see rampage of U.S. Embassy) or killed political opponents (Belaïd Chokri), I decided not to present myself at the hearing on June 17 and continue my fight for freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience from Paris. We need to fight against the establishment of a new dictatorship. At the end of the court, Master Kouthayr Bouallegue (one of the lawyers who defended Weld el 15, the one who gave the latter pleading) told the press: “This verdict is outrageous, today is the first step toward dictatorship. “
Tunisians revolted and overthrew the regime of Ben Ali because of the abuse of the police repression and the lack of freedom of expression. But two years after the revolution, the police has not yet been reformed, it is still an instrument of political repression and not a police designed to ensure security in the city.
Tunisia now has the opportunity to show the world that it can be governed by the founding principles of the revolution. Its uprising had a profound effect on all the Arab peoples. Our country is in a position to be the promoter of Human rights.
For all these reasons, I address this petition to the Tunisian justice: “FREE Weld el 15.”