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Artists Wrongly Suspected of Terrorist Activity Arrested in Tunisia

According to Le Monde, three Tunisian artists have been sentenced to one year in prison and each fined 1,000 dinars (about $500). Hailing from the generation that liberated free speech during the country’s 2011 revolution, Fakhri El-Ghezal, Atef Maatallah, and Ala Eddine Slim were wrongly suspected of terrorist activities and eventually arrested for cannabis use.

El-Ghezal, a well-known photographer, has exhibited at the Muceum in Marseille, the New Museum in New York, the Beirut Art Center, and the Carthage National Museum in Tunisia. Maatallah received second prize at this year’s International Drawing Salon in Paris and the Pompidou Center acquired one of his artworks. Slim, a film director, screenwriter, editor and producer, has made a dozen films and worked with emerging filmmakers in Tunisia.

Last month fifteen armed police officers stormed Slim’s house where the three artists were hanging out, using a search warrant for suspected terrorist activity. The evidence cited was Maatallah’s beard and a suspicious bag carried by El-Ghezal. Finding no proof to support their suspicions, the police arrested the men for smoking marijuana.

A campaign for a presidential pardon has been launched. “We're not only fighting for our friends,” said organizer Ismael Leamsi, “but for all imprisoned innocents and against this unjust law.”