Return to 'Despotism': Two-year sentence for Tunisian artist Rashad Tamboura's anti-Saied mural
On Wednesday, a Tunisian court upheld a two-year sentence against Tunisian artist Rashad Tamboura for painting a mural criticising President Kais Saied's stance on migration.
The court's decision sparked a nationwide controversy in the bedrock of the 2011 revolutions, where freedoms have been shrinking since Saied's power grab three years ago.
"This sentence confirms the persistence of President Kais Saied's regime in pursuing policies of silencing voices and cuffing hands. (...) Tunisia is being pushed into the square of despotism that the Tunisian people fought to break away from," the Intersection Association for Rights and Freedoms, a local NGO, wrote Thursday.
Last July, Tamboura, 28, painted, in Moutassir, his hometown, a mural depicting President Kais Saied in his famous grim position next to a small map of the African continent. Next to the President, Tamboura wrote, "racist, vassal, greed, fascist."
Since last February, President Saied has constantly shared conspiracy theories claiming that Sub-Saharan immigration to Tunisia is a "criminal plan" aimed at changing Tunisia's demographic makeup. He also enforced harsh anti-migrant policies, namely deporting thousands of black migrants to the scorching Sahara borders.
On July 24, 2023, Tamboura was arrested in his house and was held in prison until the issuance of the initial judgment in December. He was sentenced to two years in prison under Article 67 of the Penal Code for "committing a heinous act" against President Saied.
"It is ironic that after the revolution and all the achievements we made, young people are still tried today under a law dating back to 1913 -- a disgrace to the state," said Mai Al-Aabidi, a spokesperson of the Intersection association.
Decree 54 and Article 67 of the Penal Code dates to 1913, under the era of the Beys in Tunisia. The word Bey would be changed to President after the North African state gained independence in 1956.
Across social media platforms, hundreds of Tunisians posted under the hashtag' freedom for Rachad', decrying the dystopian state the country reached under the rule of Saied.
"Because he wrote on the wall a chapter from the constitution against tyranny, which is his constitutional right. He was sentenced to two years in prison," wrote Tunisia's former minister of employment Faouzi Ben Abderrahman in reaction to the rule against Rachad.
Last month, Tamboura launched a hunger strike and stitched his mouth to protest his arrest. His health situation has drastically detreated since then, says the Intersection for Rights and Freedoms association.
Over the past two years, Tunisian authorities have arrested several prominent opposition figures as Saied pushed to consolidate his rule.
Elected in 2019, Saied froze the Tunisian parliament in 2021 and subsequently dissolved the legislature to rule by decree.
Last year, he successfully pushed a constitutional referendum that expanded the powers of his presidency.
Opponents have decried Saied's power grab as a coup that risks bringing the country back to the authoritarianism of the pre-2011 uprising that toppled longtime Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.