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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Reporters Without Borders slams storming of Al Jazeera’s Tunisia bureau


Protests broke out in Tunisia on Sunday after President Kais Saied froze parliament and dismissed the prime minister in what was described as a “coup”.

Reporters Without Borders [RSF] has condemned the raiding of Al Jazeera’s office in Tunisia on Monday, calling on Tunisian authorities to “immediately reopen the bureau” and allow the journalists to resume work normally.

“We condemn the closure of Al Jazeera’s Tunis bureau by police the day after an announcement by President Kais Saied started a political crisis in Tunisia, and we urge the authorities to respect press freedom and pluralism,” said Souhaieb Khayati, the head of RSF’s North Africa desk.

At least 20 members of plain-clothed Tunisian security forces stormed the office on Monday without prior notice, saying they were acting according to orders.

Bureau Chief Lotfi Hajji said police ordered staff to turn off their mobile phones and confiscated the office’s keys without allowing anyone to enter to retrieve their equipment.

Though it came without warning, the raid did not come as a surprise.

Al Jazeera has been targeted by several regimes for its real-time coverage of political instability in the region, from the 2013 events in Egypt to the Sudan revolution in 2019.

The Qatar-based broadcaster condemned the raid of its office, saying it is “a troubling escalation” and feared “it will impede fair and objective coverage of unfolding events in the country”.

“Al Jazeera calls on the Tunisian authorities to allow its journalists to operate unhindered and be allowed to practice their profession without fear or intimidation. The network values the solidarity of human rights and media organisations for their condemnation of these actions against Al Jazeera’s bureau in Tunisia,” read the statement.

Security forces storm Al Jazeera’s Tunisia office amid political unrest

The broadcaster also described the incident “as an attack on press freedom as a whole”.

Monday’s raid came after the ouster of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi by President Saied, who also suspended the country’s parliament following anti-government protests in Tunisia.

Those protests were sparked by the perceived mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis in the country as well as its dwindling economy.

After an emergency meeting with armed forces and security services, President Saied announced he would be assuming executive power alongside a new prime minister.

Mechichi later said on Monday that he will hand the responsibility to whoever the president chooses “in order to preserve the safety of all Tunisians”.

“I declare that I align myself, as I have always, by the side of our people, and declare that I will not take up any position or responsibility in the state,” said Mechichi in a statement on Facebook.

Qatar’s foreign ministry [MOFA] issued a statement calling on all parties involved in Tunisia’s political crisis to avoid escalation and engage in dialogue to overcome the current situation while upholding “the interests of the Tunisian people, prevail the voice of wisdom”.

The US has also been in contact with the Tunisian government, saying the crisis in the country should be resolved in accordance with its constitution and human rights.

“We are particularly troubled by reports that media offices have been closed and urge scrupulous respect for freedom of expression and other civil rights. Tunisia must not squander its democratic gains. The United States will continue to stand on the side of Tunisia’s democracy,” said US State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday.

President Saied’s move has been described by many as a coup, a claim that he himself denied in a video posted by the presidency.

The president called on those making such assumptions to “revise their constitutional lessons”.

Saied also imposed a night curfew in the country from 7pm until 6am, starting Monday and lasting until 27 August. However, there is an exception for those with urgent health cases and night workers.

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