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Press FreedomTunisia

Tunisia shuts critical media outlets

October 27, 2021

Tunisia's independent media regulator shuttered Nessma TV, owned by President Kais Saied's political rival. Quran Kareem, a religious radio station, was also closed.

Nessma TV during a taping in its studio
Nessma TV was shuttered and had equipment seized by Tunisia's media regulator WednesdayImage: picture-alliance/abaca/Balkis Press

Tunisia's media regulator HAICA announced Wednesday it had closed the Nessma TV station, as well as a religious radio station, Quran Kareem.

The television station is owned by Nabil Karoui — a political rival of Tunisian President Kais Saied — who is currently in detention in Algeria.

Both media outlets were operating without a license, the media regulator said, though both had been without one for years.

Information as an instrument of influence

Media watchdogs had complained Nessma TV and Quran Kareem were tools of political influence, even before Saied came to power.

"Nessma is owned by a leader in the Heart of Tunisia party, which was reflected in its contents, which violated the principles of freedom of audiovisual communication," HAICA said.

HAICA said it had seized "broadcasting equipment" from Nessma TV.

In addition to Nabil Karoui, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a part-owner of Nessma. Quran Kareem is owned by Said Jaziri, a member of parliament from the Errahma party.

Nabil Karoui was arrested in Algeria in early September with his brother, Ghazi Karoui, for illegal entry.

Then presidential candidate Nabil Karoui surrounded by supporters ahead of the 2019 election
Then presidential candidate Nabil Karoui greets his supporters after being released from Mornaguia prison near the capital Tunis in October 2019Image: picture-alliance/abaca/Images de Tunisie/N. Fauque

A presidential candidate in 2019, Karoui is the leader of the Heart of Tunisia party, aligned with the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha. His political platform focused on anti-Islamism and the fight against poverty.

Since 2017 Tunisia has prosecuted Nabil Karoui for money laundering and tax evasion. In 2019 he was imprisoned for more than a month and subsequently remanded in custody from December 2020 until June of 2021.

Kais Saied raises his hand while celebrating his electoral victory in 2019
Kais Saied won in a landslide victory in 2019 and consolidated power in July of this yearImage: AFP/F. Belaid

Critics of the president now see the move to close both outlets as a threat to press freedom in Tunisia.

A mismanaged democracy

President Kais Saied consolidated power in what critics charge was a coup on July 25 and then suspended parliament. He gave himself broad powers and began arresting and imposing travel bans on judges, lawmakers and businessmen in what he termed an anti-corruption purge.

Saied enjoys broad support in Tunisia though due to years of poor governance, corruption, mismanagement of the economy, and political gridlock. A deadly surge in COVID-19 cases has aggravated the situation.

Since the Arab Spring in 2011, Tunisia had moved towards democracy.

ar/rc (AFP, Reuters)