Tunisia: Police break  in during comedian’s show controversial

Tunisia: Police break in during comedian’s show controversial

Police officers tried to interrupt the show by very popular Tunisian comedian Lotfi Abdelli, arguing it was “an attack on morality”, sparking controversy and fears of a return to Ben Ali-style censorship in Tunisia.

While comedian and actor Lotfi Abdelli, 52, was on stage at a festival in Sfax (centre-east) on Sunday, police officers providing security tried to stop the show after a scene in which he accused the authorities and the Police criticized and several showed middle fingers.

Lotfi Abdelli then took the public with him to denounce the “hostile” behavior of “three police officers” whom he accused of throwing water bottles in his direction. He was still able to finish his show. To justify the officers’ behavior, a police union on Tuesday shared on its Facebook page “the scene of the show that irritates us,” saying “sorry” for posting “such trivia” and “nonsense.”

Two police officers in Sfax had filed a complaint against Lotfi Abdelli for “attacking public decency”, an Interior Ministry official said on Tuesday. He specifically stressed that the union’s statements “in no way represent the official position of the authorities or the Interior Ministry”.

The “position (of the ministry) is represented only by its official structures” and “its task is to ensure that citizens exercise public and individual freedoms within the limits permitted by law,” the ministry affirmed in a statement.

Many Tunisians criticized the attitude of the police on social networks and denied any influence on the content of the shows. They also expressed their fear of a return to “suppression” of freedoms in Tunisia, when satirical shows such as those put on by Lotfi Abdelli under the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, overthrown by the 2011 revolution, were not sanctioned. The comedian announced on Facebook that he was leaving the country forever: “You stole my little hope”.

For lawyer and human rights activist Bassem Trifi, “the censorship exercised by the police is an attack on the freedom of speech, expression and media guaranteed in the 2022 constitution,” barely passed in a referendum in which the comedian spoke out openly had otherwise voted “Yes”.

On Facebook, he called the police break-in a “dangerous precedent” and believed the Home Office had not issued “sufficiently severe sanctions” given the police’s conduct. “When a group of security forces decides what is presented (shown), you know you are in a police state.”

attacked journalists

For its part, the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) denounced “attacks” on journalists who filmed “a union policeman’s attack on Lotfi Abdelli”. Since 2011, police officers have the right to organize in unions.

After the coup by President Kaïs Saïed, who took power a year ago, NGOs and civil society representatives warned of a possible decline in freedoms in the country.