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Comedian released after two months' imprisonment for imitating President Ben Ali

(OLPEC/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 2 April 2008 OLPEC press release:

Tunisian comedian Ouled Baballah released

OLPEC welcomes the release of Tunisian comedian Hédi Ouled Baballah on 20 March 2008 on the occasion of the 52nd anniversary of the country's independence. The comedian received a conditional release after two months' imprisonment.

Ouled Baballah was arrested at a highway checkpoint on 14 January and taken to Ben Arous (suburb of Tunis) police station. He was charged with "possession of a classified narcotic substance" and sentenced by the court of first instance of Ben Arous to one year in prison and a fine of 1,000 dinars (approx. US$800).

At his 4 February court hearing, Ouled Baballah denied any knowledge of the drug and referred to a police conspiracy against him following his latest sketch. This hypothesis seemed the most likely, according to freedom of expression non-governmental organisations, based on the fact that the comedian had just produced an audacious sketch in a private location in which he imitated President Ben Ali. This sketch circulated widely in Tunisia via a cell phone recording.

Ouled Baballah had previously been arrested and detained for three days and beaten in the police station in March 2007 following the production of a first sketch, also in a private location, where he imitated President Ben Ali. Artists and celebrities around the world were by his arrest and demanded his release.

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