The IPI global network of editors, leading journalists and media executives strongly condemned the shutdown of the Tunisian broadcaster Zaytouna TV and the arrest of journalist Amer Ayad. IPI called upon Tunisian authorities to respect press freedom by allowing independent news outlets to operate and to immediately release the arrested journalist.

On Wednesday, October 6, Tunisian authorities shut down Zaytouna TV, days after one of its main presenters was arrested over comments critical of President Kais Saied that the journalist had expressed during the TV show Hassad 24. Security forces raided the broadcaster’s headquarters and seized its equipment, Zaytouna TV stated on Facebook.

On Sunday, authorities had arrested talk-show host Amer Ayad, one of Zaytouna’s main presenters, claiming Ayad was “undermining the security of the state”. In his show, Ayad had read the anti-dictatorship poem “The Ruler” by the Iraqi poet Ahmed Matar. Amer had also criticized the president’s appointment of the new prime minister. Quickly after reading the poem, the host was arrested by security. Currently, he is still being held.

“Tunisia must immediately release Amer Ayad and allow Zaytouna to operate”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said today. “Ayad’s arrest seems to be part of ongoing efforts by President Saied to undermine Tunisia’s press freedom.”

Zaytouna TV, which started broadcasting in 2012 after the country’s dictator, then President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, was overthrown during the Arab spring, is known for being critical of Tunisia’s current ruler, Kais Saied. Already in 2015, authorities seized Zaytouna’s equipment following critical statements aired by the broadcaster.

State officials explained the shutdown by stressing Zaytouna TV had been broadcasting without a licence. “Zaytouna has been broadcasting illegally for years and has not received a broadcasting license as it has not respected the legal framework”, Nouri Lajmi, president of the country’s Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA) told AFP. Tunisia’s failure to grant broadcasting licenses represents a widespread administrative obstacle to media freedom in the country.

In July this year, police raided the Al Jazeera Tunis bureau and confiscated mobile phones and other equipment of the journalists. In September, the police used violence against nine reporters covering a demonstration in Tunis, disrespecting and impeding the journalists work.

On July 26, President Kais Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended the Parliament following months of public anger over the ongoing economic crisis and failings in managing the COVID-19 pandemic.