Tunisia court frees radio station head arrested in crackdown

Several Mosaique FM journalists have been under scrutiny as Saied’s government cracks down on critics.

Demonstrators carry banners during a protest organized by the National Union of Tunisian Journalists, September 9, 2022
Demonstrators carry banners during a protest organised by the National Union of Tunisian Journalists on September 9, 2022 [File: Jihed Abidellaoui/Reuters]

The head of Tunisia’s most popular radio station, Mosaique FM, was freed on bail, months after he was jailed alongside a litany of figures, including opposition leaders, critical of President Kais Saied’s move to concentrate power in his hands.

A Tunisian appeals court made the decision to release Noureddine Boutar on a bail of 1 million dinars ($324,000), but the media head is still banned from travelling, Mosaique reported on Thursday.

“Boutar does not have this amount, especially since the judiciary has frozen all his assets. We are in the process of collecting the amount, so it will be difficult for him to be released today,” his lawyer Dalila Msaddek told the AFP news agency.

In March, the European Parliament condemned Saied’s “authoritarian drift” and called for Boutar’s immediate release.

Boutar’s release comes on the heels of two other Mosaique journalists questioned by police last week. Haythem El Mekki and his radio co-host Elyes Gharb are being interrogated for their comments about the country’s powerful security forces.

Another Mosaique journalist under scrutiny is Khalifa Guesmi, sentenced last week to five years in prison on charges of disclosing national security information, according to Mosaique.

As Saeid’s authoritarian shift deepens, dozens of dissidents, activists, journalists and opposition figures have been arrested in recent months, sparking condemnation from the international community and rights groups.

Many of these arrests have been due to accusations of conspiring against state security. Saied, a former law professor who has no prior political experience, has said the steps aim to “preserve the state and its institutions”.

The academic-turned-politician has dismissed the democratically elected government and the parliament, extended control over the judiciary and diluted the independence of the electoral body since his election as president in 2019.

He has also rewritten a new constitution in steps seen as dismantling the democratic gains of the 2011 revolution.

The head of the biggest opposition party Ennahdha, Rached Ghannouchi, was recently sentenced to a year in prison, while 17 current or former Ennahdha members have been arrested since December.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised these arrests and has warned the government is completely set on decimating the opposition.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies