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Tunisia arrests MP and TV host over comments against president: Lawyer

Lawmaker Abdellatif al-Alaoui and journalist Amer Ayad are being held on charges of ‘plotting against state security’
Lawmaker Abdellatif al-Alaoui was detained after criticising the Tunisian president on Zitouna TV (video grab)

Tunisian authorities on Sunday arrested an MP and a television journalist for criticising the recent power grab by President Kais Saied on the television show Hassad 24, their lawyer said. 

Lawmaker Abdellatif al-Alaoui’s arrest is the latest in a series of detentions of Tunisian legislators, after Saied suspended parliament, dismissed the prime minister, and took on wider executive and judicial powers, in a move labelled by opponents as a coup

Since then, the president introduced measures that effectively allow him to rule by decree.

The lawyer, Samir Ben Omar, identified the Zitouna TV presenter as Amer Ayad, telling AFP that Alaoui and Ayad were being held on charges of “plotting against state security”.

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On the Hassad 24 programme, Alaoui and Ayad criticised the president's appointment of Najla Bouden as Tunisia's first female prime minister, with the latter scoffing that she would function only as a "servant of the sultan".

Ayad also speculated that Saied had been unable to find a man to fill the prime minister's post.

In his remarks, Alaoui added that he had "the courage to say" that Saied's measures were "a coup d'etat".

Both were arrested on the request of a military court for "the expression of their own opinions during this broadcast", their lawyer said.

Alaoui is a member of the ultraconservative Islamist-nationalist party al-Karama, an ally of Ennahda, the largest party in Tunisia's deeply fragmented legislature. 

On 22 September, the military justice arrested al-Karama's head, Seifeddine Makhlouf, for "undermining the dignity of the army", his lawyer said at the time.

Zitouna TV is considered close to al-Karama and Ennahda, both opponents of the president.

Also on Sunday, over 5,000 people held a rally throughout Tunisia in support of Saied, more than half of whom gathered in the capital, exceeding the crowd that gathered a week earlier to oppose him.

The demonstrators carried banners reading: "The people want a revision of the constitution" and "Saied, official spokesman of the people."

Saied has said that his action, after months of political stalemate, seeks to "save" Tunisia from "imminent peril" and a socio-economic crisis aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.