TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) – Tunisia’s independent media regulator said it has shut down three broadcasters who criticized the country’s president, who dissolved parliament and seized extensive powers over the summer.
In a statement released Wednesday, regulator HAICA said the two television stations and one radio station had operated “illegally” without a license for years, despite multiple calls to adhere to broadcasting licensing laws.
HAICA board member Hichem Senoussi confirmed to The Associated Press that the offices of Nessma TV and Al Quran al Karim radio were sealed on Wednesday and their equipment seized with police assistance. The video showed dozens of police vans leaving the Nessma TV offices.
According to Senoussi, the management of the stations had long ignored the law on licenses because they would have benefited from the political patronage of the parties in power, namely Ennahdha and Qalb Tounes.
Zitouna TV, which was shut down earlier this month, also had ties to Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahdha party. In July, Tunisian President Kais Saied sacked his government, froze parliament, suspended political immunity for MPs and assumed sweeping powers in what constitutionalists and opponents have called a coup.
Senoussi denied any political pressure behind the HAICA decision and said it had no connection with Saied’s agenda.
“Personally, I wish that (the closure of the stations) had not taken place,” Senoussi said.
All three stations criticized Saied and the actions he took in July. Since Saied’s consolidation of power, his critics have said he is undermining press freedoms and rights in Tunisia and pointed to a democratic setback. On July 26, the Tunis offices of the Qatari television channel Al Jazeera were also stormed by the security forces.
Nessma TV is owned by business tycoon Nabil Karoui, the leader of Qalb Tounes who lost to Kais Saied in the 2019 presidential elections. Prosecuted in money laundering and tax evasion cases, Karoui is currently the subject of ‘a trial in Algeria for illegal entry into the country.
At a press conference on Wednesday evening, Nessma TV’s attorney, Nazih Al Suwiay, said the channel had submitted all documents and taken all necessary procedures requested by HAICA.
Al Quran al Karim radio is owned by Said Jaziri, a member of the Salafist Islamist Errahma party. The HAICA statement on Wednesday said that “(the station) was promoting hate speech to incite violence and hatred.”
While noting that two stations closed on Wednesday were operating outside the normal framework and that it is “important to apply the law”, the president of the Tunisian association of journalists, Mohamed Yassine Jelassi told the AP that their closure “is not the solution”.
Associated Press journalist Francesca Ebel in Tunis, Tunisia contributed