Some police officers attempted to assault comedian Lotfi Abdelli and assaulted his manager during a comedy show in Sfax on Sunday night where Abdelli made a joke about the police, according to news reports, videos circulating online, and testimony from those affected. Officers also reportedly decided to stop providing security at the event which took place at the Sfax International Festival. Some report that the joke in question at Abdelli’s one-man comedy show may have been about giving a middle finger to the police, political parties and the president.
Mohamed Boudhina, Lotfi Abdelli’s producer, stated in a Mosaique FM interview on Monday that he had been the victim of “a murder attempt” by police at the Sunday show after he intervened to stop them from attacking Abdelli—a claim corroborated by artist Sami Lajmi. Boudhina also claimed that his injuries forced him to go to the hospital.
“From the early evening, we were warned by the festival director about a suspicious movement and we were so naive to think that he was talking about audience members,” Boudhina said.
According to Boudhina, a number of police officers belonging to some police unions barged into the show and started to directly threaten Abdelli and his crew 30 minutes after the show began. Despite the fact that some of their superiors were present on the scene and tried to contain the situation, the superiors were unable to stop the officers, he said. These cops went on stage and attempted to drag Abdelli off of it but they were prevented by Boudhina, who was beaten up as he was trying to protect Abdelli.
“If I did not get beaten up, they would have killed him. I could see the hate and persistence in their eyes,” Boudhina told journalist Elyes Gharbi on Mosaïque FM’s MidiShow on Monday.
Boudhina also denied the Ministry of Interior’s claim later in a statement that police officers escorted Abdelli back to his hotel, stating instead that Abdelli instantly left for Tunis on an equipment van after the show ended out of concern for his safety.
Official Denial, and a Confirmation
The Ministry of Interior denied allegations that it had withdrawn security for the show in a statement released Monday morning, stating that “the show was secured from start till end & the artist was safely accompanied back to his residence in one of the hotels”.
However the same statement acknowledged “tension” between police and comedian Abdelli at the show, stressing that it lay blame for such tension on the comedian’s jokes : “It is important to note that the mentioned artist did an unethical gesture towards security forces which created tension among those present on scene.”
While the Interior Ministry statement denied security was withdrawn from the show, a police union spokesperson told Tunisian National Radio on Monday morning that police officers will no longer be providing security services for any shows that they deem as “unfit for public taste” citing article 226 of Tunisian penal code, which incriminates “unethical conduct.”
“We will not be a party to any ethical crime”, added Chokri Hmada, the spokesperson for the Interior Security Forces Syndicates.
Other police unions also seemed to justify the aggression against Abdelli in statements posted on their Facebook pages. For example, the Tunis National Security District Syndicate stated in a post following the incident: “Immorality and intellectual and moral decadence cannot in any way be art… assaulting the state with all its components & bodies is a crime punishable by law.”
Other Shows Cancelled
Following Sunday’s assault on Abdelli and his producer Boudhina, Boudhina’s production company bouddha released a statement cancelling Abdelli’s other performances across the country in his summer tour “until further notice.” Another show produced by Boudhina’s bouddha, Sufi musical performance Ziara, also announced its cancellation of performances until further notice.
On August 4, it was reported that some staff members of the Ziara show had altercations with police at the Carthage International Festival.
Following the Sunday’s violence, Ziara producer & director Sami Lajmi stated on Mosaique FM that they havve been subjected to harassment by police during their shows since the beginning of the summer season and that they no longer feel safe performing on Tunisian stages.
The Ministry of Interior statement added that an official investigation request was filed towards prosecuting those responsible for the incident, and an additional internal investigation was launched within the Ministry’s General Inspectorate.
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