Comic jailed for mimicking Tunisia president

Tunisian rights groups are demanding the release of a jailed comedian, saying police framed him for drug charges after he mimicked President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a comic routine, Quds Press news agency reported.

Comic jailed for mimicking Tunisia president

Renowned Tunisian actor, Hédi Ouled Baballah, imitated the president in a show in the southern city of Sfax at last week's Laughter Week Comedy Festival.

He was then jailed for a year and fined 1,000 dinars (800 dollars) for cannabis possession on Feb. 4 – a charge he completely denies.

"It looks like yet another trumped-up case against a person who has dared to speak against the president," said an official from the Tunisia Monitoring Group of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX-TMG).

"President Ben Ali obviously has as much of a sense of humor as he has a taste for democracy," added Rohan Jayasekera.

The comedian's spoof of the president was recorded and circulated via cell phone. A Tunisian opposition website posted a link to the 30-minute standup routine.

Ouled Baballah was later stopped in Tunis at a highway checkpoint, where his car was confiscated, the Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC) said.

The group said he was beaten and dragged to a police station, where police informed him that they found cannabis in the glove compartment of his car and fake currency at his home. They charged him with drug possession and money counterfeiting – both of which he denies.

Ouled Baballah was arrested and assaulted after a similar performance last year. He is appealing the drug sentence and a verdict in the currency case is pending.

Rights activist, Siham Ben Sedrine, said Tunisian authorities often frame dissenters to discredit them.

She cited the cases of Mohamed Abbou, a lawyer who was jailed in 2005 on charges of attacking a female colleague, and journalist Slim Boukhdhir, charged in 2007 with violating public morality laws.

TMG has called for a review of the case and demanded that Baballah be freed pending appeal. The group also urged comedians who participated in the comedy festival to defend their right to political satire.

Tunisian authorities also deported Algerian comedian Baaziz – known for his politically charged routines. Sources said authorities didn't approve of his show either.

Baaziz got a standing ovation at the festival and was scheduled to give another two performances in the capital.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Şubat 2008, 18:41