TUNIS: Tunisian police stormed the building of the Deanship of Lawyers on Saturday and arrested Sonia Dahmani, a lawyer known for her fierce criticism of President Kais Saied, and then arrested two journalists who witnessed the confrontation, a journalists’ syndicate said.

Two IFM radio journalists, Mourad Zghidi and Borhen Bsaiss, were arrested, an official in the country’s main journalists’ syndicate told Reuters. The incident was the latest in a series of arrests and investigations targeting activists, journalists and civil society groups critical of Saied and the government. The move reinforces opponents’ fears of an increasingly authoritarian government ahead of presidential elections expected later this year.

Dahmani was arrested after she said on a television program this week that Tunisia is a country where life is not pleasant. She was commenting on a speech by Saied, who said there was a conspiracy to push thousands of undocumented migrants from Sub-Saharan countries to stay in Tunisia. Dahmani was called before a judge on Wednesday on suspicion of spreading rumors and attacking public security following her comments, but she asked for postponement of the investigation.

The judge rejected her request. Dozens of lawyers took to the streets in protest on Saturday night, carrying banners reading “Our profession will not kneel” and “We will continue the struggle” Saied came to power in free elections in 2019. Two years later he seized additional powers when he shut down the elected parliament and moved to rule by decree before assuming authority over the judiciary.

Since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, the country has won more press freedoms and is considered one of the more open media environments in the Arab world. Politicians, journalists and unions, however, say that freedom of the press faces a serious threat under the rule of Saied. The president has rejected the accusations and said he will not become a dictator.

 

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