Artists Suspected of Terrorist Activity Imprisoned for Cannabis Use

A group of young artists and activists have launched a campaign for their release.

Protestor against Law 52
Photo: courtesy Galarie Ammar Farhat via
Protestor against Law 52 <br> Photo: courtesy Galarie Ammar Farhat via

Protestors against Law 52. 
Photo: Courtesy Galerie Ammar Farhat via

A campaign has been launched for the release of three Tunisian artists who have been imprisoned for cannabis use, after being wrongly accused of terrorist activity.

Photographer Fakhri El-Ghezal, artist Atef Maatallah, and filmmaker Ala Eddine Slim were at Slim’s house on November 19 when armed officers stormed the property. Police had a search warrant for suspected terrorist activity, citing as evidence that Maatallah had a beard and El-Ghezal carrying a suspicious bag.

The police found nothing incriminating at the property, but arrested the three men for using cannabis. All three men have been fined 1000 dinars ($500) and been sentenced to a year in prison, according to Le Monde.

Fifteen armed police raided the house <br> Photo: via Le Monde

Fifteen armed police raided the house. 
Photo: via Le Monde.

“The raid was carried out by three different brigades totaling 15 armed police in bulletproof vests, who thought they were dismantling a dangerous terrorist cell,” an unnamed friend told Le Monde. “They came face to face with three artists having a beer and an eight month pregnant professor of fine art.”

After finding no evidence of terrorist activity, the police invoked Law 52 to arrest them. The law dates from 1992, the era of the previous leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled the country for 23 years before fleeing to Saudi Arabia after the revolution in 2011. The law states that anyone found in possession of any narcotic substances or plants can be imprisoned from one to five years, and fined between 1,000-3,000 dinars.

 Fakhri El-Ghezal <i>Sidi Slim</i><br> Photo: via

Fakhri El-Ghezal, Sidi Slim.
Photo: via

The three men are very active in the contemporary arts scene in Tunisia and a group of young artists and activists have launched a campaign for their release.

“We’re not only fighting for our friends,” said organizer Ismael Leamsi. “But for all imprisoned innocents and against this unjust law.”

All three men are artists of international renown. El-Ghezal has exhibited his photographs at the New Museum in New York, the Mucem museum in Marseille, and the Beirut Art Center. Slim works with emerging filmmakers in Tunisia, and Maatallah was awarded second prize at the International Drawing Salon in Paris this year and his work is included in the Centre Pompidou collection.

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