Tunisian police has stormed Al Jazeera’s bureau in the capital Tunis, expelling all the staff, after President Kais Saied late on Sunday ousted the government in a move his foes called a coup.
At least 20 plain-clothed police officers entered the office on Monday, Al Jazeera journalists in Tunis reported, saying the officers did not have warrants for the raid.
“We did not receive any prior notice of the eviction of our office by the security forces,” Lotfi Hajji, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Tunisia, said.
Security forces involved in the raid said they were carrying out instructions from the country’s judiciary and asked all journalists to leave.
Reporters said they were ordered by security officers to turn off their phones and were not allowed back into the building to retrieve their personal belongs.
The officers confiscated the keys to the office.
Al Jazeera said it views the raid as “an attack on press freedom” in a statement published later on Monday.
“Al Jazeera considers this action by the Tunisian authorities as a troubling escalation and fears it will impede fair and objective coverage of unfolding events in the country,” the network said.
“Al Jazeera calls on the Tunisian authorities to allow its journalists to operate unhindered and be allowed to practice their profession without fear or intimidation.
“The Network values the solidarity of human rights and media organisations for their condemnation of these actions against Al Jazeera’s bureau in Tunisia.
“In a world in which the media and journalists face increasing threats, Al Jazeera views this as an attack on press freedom as a whole.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it “condemns the storming of Al Jazeera’s office in Tunisia and the media’s involvement in political conflicts.”
RSF spokesperson Pauline Ades-Mevel told Al Jazeera her team is staying vigilant for any further attacks on media outlets in Tunisia.
“We are looking carefully at the situation. We denounce this move and we consider the pluralism of the press and the freedom of the press has to be respected by the authorities during this time when the political crisis is ongoing since yesterday night in the country,” Ades-Mevel said.
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President Saied suspended parliament and dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on Sunday in a move condemned as an attack on democracy by his rivals but which others greeted with celebrations on the streets.
The presidency said the parliament would be suspended for 30 days, though Saied told reporters the 30-day period can be extended if needed “until the situation settles down.”
Saied said he would assume executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister after violent protests broke out in several Tunisian cities over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy.
It is the biggest challenge yet to a 2014 constitution that split powers between the president, prime minister and parliament.
“Many people were deceived by hypocrisy, treachery and robbery of the rights of the people,” he said in a statement carried on state media.
“I warn any who think of resorting to weapons … and whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets,” he added.
He also suspended the immunity of members of parliament, insisting his actions were in line with the constitution.
The People’s Movement party hailed his move as “a path towards correcting the course of the revolution which has been violated by anti-revolutionary forces, led by Ennahda.”
However, the Democratic Current party rejected the president’s measures and called for unifying efforts to get the country out of the crisis by respecting democracy, human rights and fighting political corruption.