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Urgent Concerns Regarding the Arbitrary Detention of Artist Rached Tamboura in Tunisia

Rached Tamboura (28), an artist and student at Tunisia’s Arabic Calligraphy University in Tunis, was arrested on the night of July 17-18, 2023, following a series of graffiti paintings criticising President Kais Saied for racist remarks about sub-Saharan migrants. These comments led to a wave of hatred and racism, resulting in mass expulsions and attacks against black migrants and Tunisians.

Upon his arrest, Rached Tamboura was interrogated without legal representation and detained for 48 hours pending investigation. Subsequently, he was ordered to pre-trial detention and later referred to trial for “committing an offensive act against the president” and “producing and promoting false news to infringe on the rights of others, harming public security or national defence, or spreading terror among the population,” under Article 67 of the penal code and Article 24 of Decree-Law 54. He was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, a decision upheld by the Monastir Court of Appeals in January 2024.

President Saied’s claim of emergency powers granted by Tunisia’s 2014 Constitution, and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tunisia since February 2023, have led to the targeting and harassment of opposition figures, dissidents, and critics, threatening fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

Rached Tamboura’s conviction contravenes international human rights treaties, including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Tunisia is a state party.

This arrest and conviction are particularly concerning as they stem from the peaceful exercise of Rached Tamboura’s right to freedom of expression through art, a form of dissent that should not lead to arbitrary detention.

RIGHTSDEFENDERS urge the immediate release of Rached Tamboura and the quashing of his conviction and sentence, ensuring his access to adequate healthcare in compliance with international standards and medical ethics. Furthermore, we call for an end to arbitrary arrests of critics for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.


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