Crackdown on Tunisian press covering Saied's 'power grab' referendum

Crackdown on Tunisian press covering Saied's 'power grab' referendum
Press freedom is on the decline in Tunisia under the rule of president Saied and threatened to be further curtailed under a proposed constitution.
3 min read
25 July, 2022
Journalists have been protesting the decline in press freedoms since Kais Saied took power [Getty]

Tunisian journalists have been turned away from several polling stations across the country amid a widely boycotted controversial referendum that if passed, would see one-man rule return to Tunisia. 

"We are being told by the police that we are not allowed to do our work at a poll site in Aouina," tweeted journalist Erin Claire Brown this morning. 

Another journalist, Lina Chahd, was reportedly banned from using her camera at a ballot centre in Oued Ellil Manouba, on the outskirts of Tunis. 

Other media workers have decided to boycott coverage of the divisive vote, which is viewed by critics as an authoritarian power grab by President Kais Saied but is certain to pass following a boycott by opponents. 

Journalists and activists were also reportedly assaulted and arrested over the weekend as protesters took to the streets of Tunis to express their staunch opposition to Saied's planned constitution which would cement the president's authoritarian rule. 

"At least nine people were detained and charged with insulting police, several wounded including journalists who were targeted by police," said Tunisian media outlet Meshkal. 

After the pro-democracy Arab Spring revolution, Tunisia became one of the freest countries in the Arab world for journalists to operate.

Saied effectively seized complete power in Tunisia last year, in a move described as "a coup" by opponents, which saw parliament and the government dissolved.

Press freedom and democracy now appear to be on a rapid decline under the autocratic rule of President Saied and only set to worsen when the constitution vote passes. 

The Tunisian National Journalists Syndicate has accused the new constitution of "opening the door to removing the spirit of hard-fought freedom, using vague phrases such as ‘public morals’, ‘national security’ and ‘public health’ to excuse press freedom violations

"This represents a serious regression from the gains made by the Tunisian revolution in this field," said the syndicate in their statement. 

"Tunisia is once again on the road to personal power, which runs completely counter to the progress made by Tunisians in terms of individual freedoms since the January 2011 revolution," said Khaled Drareni, RSF’s North Africa representative, earlier this month.