Students detained in Tunisia over song criticising the police

They face a prison sentence of up to a year if convicted

The Palace of Justice in Tunis.  AP Photo
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Two students in Tunisia have been detained over a satirical song criticising the police and the country’s drug laws.

Youssef Chelbi and Dhia Nsir posted a clip on TikTok and Facebook of them singing a song using the Babar the Elephant theme tune.

The lyrics describe police behaviour towards young people and satirise Tunisia’s controversial drug consumption law, referring to a person arrested by the police for allegedly smoking cannabis.

The state prosecution service referred the two students to the criminal police division, where they are facing charges of “insulting others through communication networks” and “attributing incorrect claims to a public official.”

They will remain in custody until their trial next Tuesday.

The students' lawyer, Iman Souissi, told Mosaique radio station the pair could face up to a year in prison, which would prevent them from sitting their final university exams.

Despite the exams beginning on Thursday, the prosecution denied the students’ request for bail.

Their lawyer said the decision to incarcerate the pair was shocking, especially since the song’s lyrics do not include any defamation or incitement against the police.

The Ministry of Interior was not available for comment when contacted by The National.

The decision to detain the students comes amid a clampdown on freedom of speech in the country, with more than 20 opposition figures currently behind bars.

On Tuesday, an appeal court handed down a five-year prison sentence to a local journalist accused of disclosing information deemed sensitive about an anti- terrorism operation.

A judge has also sentenced opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi to one year in prison on incitement charges following a complaint by a police union.

President Kais Saied has denied that he is targeting freedoms in the country on multiple occasions, saying the arrests are needed to protect Tunisia’s national interests.

Mr Saied shut down the country’s parliament in July 2021 and since then has changed the political system, effectively giving himself more power.

Updated: May 17, 2023, 3:52 PM