Anti-government protests erupted in Tunis on 25 July after President Kais Saied’s decision to suspend parliament and the country’s prime minister. Amid the unrest, Tunisian forces also shut down Al Jazeera’s local news operation.
Al Jazeera’s offices remain locked and journalists are unable to retrieve their equipment, the broadcaster’s bureau chief in Tunis, Lotfi Hajji, told Voice of America [VOA] on Wednesday, 4 August.
The previous week, some 20 plain-clothed Tunisian security forces stormed the office without prior notice, saying they were acting according to orders.
Hajji told Al Jazeera shortly after the raid that the police ordered staff to turn off their mobile phones and confiscated the office’s keys without allowing anyone to enter to retrieve their equipment.
“The equipment is seized inside the office, and there are colleagues who work from their homes sending news via their phones and some of the correspondents go on air via Skype only,” Hajji told the media outlet, saying that the closure of their office has disrupted their workflow.
Despite the forces saying they were acting in accordance with orders, Hajji said they did not have a court order when they stormed the broadcaster’s building.
The closure of the building came amid Al Jazeera’s real-time coverage of the developing events in Tunisia, as protests erupted following President Kais Saied’s decision to freeze the parliament and dismiss the prime minister in what was described as a coup.
Hajji said that since last week, Al Jazeera’s staff have not been able to renew their filming licenses in the country, hindering their ability to take images in the streets of Tunisia.
In a recent statement, the Qatar-based broadcaster condemned the raid of its office, describing it as “a troubling escalation” and fearing “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.
The suspension of the country’s parliament has been described as a coup by the President amidst a power grab that saw him usurp all executive and legislative power in the country.
His supporters however say the President’s decision to dismiss parliament was a necessity following anti-government protests. 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. However,
the president has not appointed a replacement since the ouster of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi.
According to Reuters, political insiders in the country expect Saied to pass a new law and constitution that would focus power in the presidency instead of the parliament.
Last week, Saied also imposed a night curfew in the country from 7pm until 6am that will last until 27 August, with an exception for those with urgent health cases and night workers.