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Tunisian President Kais Saied (l) and Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani: "Efforts to suppress critical voices"

Photo: Slim Abid / AP

The artist Tawfiq Omrane is known in Tunisia for his satirical caricatures – especially about President Kais Saied. Now the public prosecutor's office has detained Omrane for drawings with which he allegedly made fun of Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani.

"The police interrogated him for hours without the presence of lawyers on suspicion of insult via social networks (...)," his lawyer, Anas Kadoussi, told Reuters on Thursday. The cartoonist would face one year in prison if convicted. The Interior Ministry declined to comment on the artist's arrest.

"The arrest of Omrane shows once again the efforts of the authorities to suppress critical voices about the president," said Amira Mohamed, a senior member of the Tunisian Association of Journalists.

Rolling back democratic achievements

Tunisia has long been regarded as a model country for the Arab Spring. This is where the protests began in 2011, where the citizens made the most bloodless transition to a democracy. But that seems to be over. President Saied dissolved parliament by decree in July 2021, which the opposition described as a coup d'état. He has also pushed through a constitution that places all essential powers in the hands of the president, and the government's ability to act has been severely restricted. Cartoonist Omrane accompanied the process with witty pictures of President Saied.

Saied justifies his actions by saying that he wants to end a crisis in Tunisia that has been going on for years. His opponents fear that he wants to transform North Africa's last democratic state into an autocracy and reverse the democratic gains of the 2011 revolution that began in Tunisia.