Tunisia bars TV, radio reports of opposition conspiracy cases

The cases banned from being covered involve at least 21 dissidents under investigation on accusations of ‘conspiracy’.

Supporters of Ennahdha stage a protest in front of the justice ministry to denounce the arrest of a senior leader
Supporters of Ennahdha, with Noureddine Bhiri, stage a protest in front of the justice ministry to denounce the arrest of one of its senior leaders [File: Hassene Dridi/AP Photo]

Radio and TV programmes in Tunisia have been banned from reporting on the cases of prominent opposition figures accused of conspiring against state security, further deepening Tunisia’s authoritarian shift under President Kais Saied.

A judge made the decision on Saturday, according to the official news agency TAP.

“The investigating judge of office 36 of the anti-terrorism branch issued a decision banning media coverage of the two cases of conspiring against state security,” court spokesperson Hanan el-Qadas told TAP.

El-Qadas said the ban concerns just “audio-visual media” and was ordered in place to protect the privacy of the figures involved in the cases.

At least 21 dissidents are being investigated “on unfounded accusations of ‘conspiracy’”, an investigation that began in February of this year, according to Amnesty International. At least 12 people have been arrested, the human rights group said.

Those arrested have been publicly branded as “terrorists”, accused of plotting to attack the state, and are being investigated under 10 articles of Tunisia’s Penal Code, including “Article 72, which mandates the death penalty for trying to ‘change the nature of the state’”, Amnesty International said.

Some outspoken critics of Saied’s government who are being investigated include Rashid Ghannouchi, the recently arrested leader of Ennahdha, the country’s biggest political party; and Nejib Chebbi, leader of Tunisia’s National Salvation Front, an opposition alliance co-founded by Ennahdha; alongside a litany of lawyers, journalists, and activists.

Since December, at least 30 opposition figures deemed critical of the Tunisian government have been arrested, according to Human Rights Watch, in a growing crackdown against the country’s opposition.

In July 2021, President Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament before moving to rule by decree and eventually taking control of the judiciary. His government’s arrests of dozens of dissidents in recent months have sparked condemnation from the international community and rights groups.

On Saturday, two US senators introduced legislation to limit funds to Tunisia until it restores its democratic institutions.

Additionally, a proposed European Commission deal to resuscitate Tunisia’s economy – as part of a wider effort to stem the flow of refugees to its borders – has rights groups concerned that it is propping up Saied’s government and overlooking its abuses of power.

Tunisia’s Salvation Front opposition coalition has called for a protest on Sunday over the arrests of some of its leaders and other prominent critics of the president.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies