TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia’s independent media regulator says it has shut down three broadcasters that were critical of the country’s president, who dissolved parliament and seized sweeping powers in the summer.
In a statement Wednesday, the regulator HAICA said the two TV 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 Wednesday and their equipment seized with the help of police. Video showed dozens of police vans leaving Nessma TV’s offices.
According to Senoussi, the stations’ management had long ignored the licensing law because they allegedly enjoyed political patronage from the parties in power, namely Ennahdha and Qalb Tounes.
Zitouna TV, which was shut down earlier in the month, also had ties to Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party Ennahdha. In July, Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed his government, froze parliament, suspended political immunity for MPs and assumed extensive powers in what constitutional lawyers and opponents have called a coup.
Senoussi denied any political pressure behind HAICA’s decision and said that it had no connection to Saied’s agenda.
“Personally, I wish that (the closure of the stations) had not taken place” Senoussi said.
All three stations have been critical of Saied and the measures he took in July. Since Saied’s consolidation of power, his critics have said he is undermining press freedoms and rights in Tunisia and have pointed to democratic backsliding. On July 26, Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera’s Tunis offices were also stormed by law enforcement.
Nessma TV is owned by business mogul 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 facing trial in Algeria for entering the country illegally.
At a press conference late Wednesday Nessma TV lawyer Nazih Al Suwiay said the channel had submitted all the documents and taken all the necessary procedures requested by HAICA.
Al Quran al Karim radio is owned by Said Jaziri, a lawmaker for the salafist Islamist party Errahma. Wednesday’s HAICA statement said that “(the station) was promoting hate speech to incite violence and hatred.”
While noting that two stations closed Wednesday were operating outside the standard framework and that it is “important to apply the law,” the president of Tunisia's journalists' association, Mohamed Yassine Jelassi told the AP that their closure “is not the solution.”
Associated Press reporter Francesca Ebel in Tunis, Tunisia contributed
Bouazza Ben Bouazza, The Associated Press