New York, October 7, 2021 – Tunisian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Amer Ayad, drop all charges against him, and allow ZaytounaTV to resume its work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On October 3, Tunisian police arrested Ayad, a talk show host for privately owned channel Zaytouna TV, at his home in Tunis on orders from the military judiciary, which accused him of conspiring against state security, according to Ayad’s lawyer, Malek Ben Amor, who spoke with CPJ over messaging app, and news reports.
On October 5, the investigative judge at the Permanent Military Court ordered the continued detention of Ayad, pending an investigation, according to Ben Amor andnews reports. As of today, Ayad remains in pretrial detention in the Mornaguia Prison in Tunis, according to Ben Amor.
Ayad’s arrest came after commentary he made on the October 1 episode of his show “Hassad 24,” during which he criticized President Kais Saied for appointing a new prime minister and recited an anti-dictatorship poem by Iraqi poet Ahmed Matar, according to news reports, Ben Amor, and CPJ’s review of the episode posted on Zaytouna’s official YouTube channel.
Yesterday, security officers raided Zaytouna’s office in Tunis and confiscated the channel’s equipment at the request of the media regulatory body, the Independent High Authority of Audiovisual Communication (HAICA), according to news reports. Nouri Lajmi, the president of HAICA, stated in those reports that Zaytouna has been broadcasting without a license for many years. Lajami did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
As of today, Zaytouna is still on the air broadcasting older shows, according to local journalist Maher Sghaier, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
“Tunisian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Amer Ayad, drop all charges against him, and return Zaytouna TV’s equipment to allow it to operate in the country,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Ayad’s arrest is not only an attack on press freedom in Tunisia, but an attack on the country’s democracy as a whole.”
CPJ emailed Tunisia’s Central Police Office for comment but did not receive an immediate response.
On October 3, police also arrested member of parliament Aloui Abdellatif, who also criticized Saied on “Hassad 24,” at Abdellatif’s home in Tunis, and released him on October 5, according to news reports and Ben Amor.
Zaytouna is among several local channels that have been broadcasting in Tunisia without a license for several years, and it has close ties to Ennahda political party, which opposes the president, according to news reports.
On July 25, Saied fired Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and froze the parliament’s activities, amid anti-government protests, according to news reports. The following day, authorities raided and shut down the Tunis office of the Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera, confiscated its equipment, and ordered its staff to leave the building, as CPJ documented at the time. As of today, Al-Jazeera’s office in Tunis remains closed, according to Sghaier.