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Tunisian station shut down after host reads anti-dictator poem


Tunisian authorities have shut down a television station after one of its hosts read an anti-dictatorship poem.

Amer Ayad – a Zitouna TV talk-show host – has been arrested and accused of “undermining the security of the state”.

Zitouna has been critical of President Kais Saied’s recent suspension of parliament, and his assumption of almost complete control of the country.

State officials said the channel had been broadcasting illegally.

On Sunday, Ayad read out The Ruler by Iraqi poet Ahmed Matar on air. Matar is famous for his satirical and critical poems about dictators from the Arab world. Ayad was arrested soon after.

His detention is the latest in a series of arrests that have targeted journalists and lawmakers who had expressed their opposition to the president’s measures.

On Wednesday, Zitouna posted on Facebook that security forces had stormed its studios and began damaging equipment.

“Zitouna has been broadcasting illegally for years,” Nouri Lajmi, president of the Independent High Authority for Audio-Visual Communication, told the AFP news agency.

Zitouna started broadcasting in 2012, following the fall of long-time ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in an uprising. This triggered a wave of similar protests across the Arab world.

Tunisia was the only country affected by the uprisings to escape conflict and establish a democratic political system.

In 2015, some of Zitouna’s equipment was seized but it continued operating.

In July, President Kais Saied stunned many in the country and abroad by announcing the suspension of parliament, the sacking of the cabinet and assuming emergency powers – citing an imminent threat to the Tunisian state.

Critics of the president may argue that this move against Zitouna is an attempt to undermine freedom of the press.

It comes after police closed the office of Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera in the capital Tunis in July, without giving reasons.

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