Jailed Tunisian rapper's appeal verdict delayed

A Tunisian court on Tuesday delayed its verdict in the appeal of rapper Ala Yaacoubi, jailed for two years for a song in which he insulted the police, his lawyer said.

"The announcement of the verdict has been put off until July 2 and bail has been refused," said Ghazi Mrabet.

"We hope that means that the court will carefully examine the case."

During the three-hour hearing, judges had heard a series of appeals for freedom of expression to be respected in the case of the singer, who is better known by his rap name Weld El 15.

The hearing came as Prime Minister Ali Larayedh was confronted during a visit to Brussels by topless women protesters calling for the release of the singer and of four fellow activists with the radical protest group Femen who have also been detained in Tunisia.

Larayed also heard European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso issue an appeal at a joint briefing for reforms to allow greater freedom of expression in Tunisia.

"The EU calls for a reform of laws inherited from the previous regime particularly in the criminal code to ensure freedom of speech for Tunisian men and women," Barroso said.

Handed a two-year jail sentence on June 13 after turning himself in following his trial in absentia in March, the rapper appeared in court on Tuesday wearing a black T-shirt with "free hands tied" written on the back.

He defended himself in the name of artistic freedom.

Speaking of the rap video posted on YouTube, in which he threatened to kill police and judges, Yaacoubi said: "It's like the scenes of violence in films."

Dozens of friends, human rights activists, members of opposition parties and fellow artists gathered outside the court to demonstrate their support for the rapper.