Tunisia detains cartoonist over drawings mocking prime minister

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) -Tunisia’s public prosecutor on Thursday detained the cartoonist Tawfiq Omrane over drawings mocking the prime minister, Omrane’s lawyer said, fuelling concern among free speech advocates.

Omrane is well known for publishing satirical cartoons featuring President Kais Saied, who seized almost all powers two years ago after he shut down Tunisia’s elected parliament in a move that the opposition described as a coup.

“The police interrogated him (Omrane) for hours without the presence of lawyers on suspicion of insulting through social networks … over cartoons mocking the prime minister,” his lawyer, Anas Kadoussi, told Reuters. Kadoussi said the cartoonist could face one year in prison if convicted.

Interior Ministry officials declined to comment immediately.

Many Tunisians see free speech as a principal reform won after the 2011 revolution that toppled dictatorial President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. But activists, journalists and politicians have warned this freedom is under threat.

“Omrane’s arrest reinforces authorities’ efforts to suppress critical voices of the president,” said Amira Mohamed, a senior official at the country’s Journalists’ Syndicate.

Kais Saied strongly criticized state TV in a speech this week, including the arrangement of headlines in a bulletin, in a move that the Journalists Syndicate said was “blatant interference”.

Saied rejects accusations of targeting freedoms and has said he will never be a dictator.

Police have detained more than 20 political figures this year, including opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi, head of Ennahda party, accusing some of plotting against state security.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Leslie Adler and Daniel Wallis)