Tunisian Students Arrested for Satirical Song Criticizing Police: Freedom of Speech Concerns Rise

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Two Tunisian students, Youssef Chelbi and Dhia Nsir, have been arrested by the Tunisian police for creating a satirical song that criticizes the police and their handling of detainees, as well as a controversial drugs law. The students had posted a video clip on TikTok and Facebook, in which they can be seen laughing and singing the sarcastic song. According to their lawyer, Imen Souissi, they are now facing charges of insulting others through social networks, which could result in a one-year prison sentence if they are found guilty. The arrest of these two individuals has sparked concern among activists and bloggers, who have reposted the song as a show of solidarity. They argue that freedom in Tunisia is under threat and that the country is becoming akin to a large prison.

Freedom of speech and media were significant gains for Tunisians following the 2011 revolution, which marked the end of the rule of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and set off the Arab Spring protests. President Kais Saied, who assumed extraordinary powers in 2021 by shutting down parliament, had promised to protect rights and freedoms, assuring he would not become a dictator. However, his opponents accuse him of establishing one-man rule, imprisoning political adversaries, and suppressing dissenting voices. In a separate case, a radio journalist was recently sentenced to five years in prison by an appeals court for disclosing sensitive information about the security services. This verdict has drawn criticism from the main journalists union, which describes it as the harshest sentence ever imposed on a journalist in Tunisia. The union sees it as an attempt to silence journalists.

Throughout the year, several prominent opposition leaders have also been arrested under the pretext of plotting against state security, leading the opposition to claim that a dictatorial regime is being consolidated. President Saied, however, dismisses these accusations and labels the arrested individuals as criminals and terrorists. Most recently, opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi was sentenced to one year in prison on charges of incitement. As concerns over freedom of speech intensify in Tunisia, activists and human rights organizations continue to call for the protection of fundamental rights and the restoration of democratic principles in the country.

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