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Tuesday, Dec 05, 2023

Tunisia’s Saied hails free thinking but book seized  

Tunisia’s Saied hails free thinking but book seized  

Tunisian President Kais Saied preached freedom of thought at a book fair on Friday, shortly before authorities confiscated a book comparing him to Frankenstein, its author and publisher said.
“It is important to liberate thinking because we cannot accomplish anything with rigid thoughts,” Saied told reporters at the opening of the 37th Tunis International Book Fair.

Shortly afterwards, security agents ordered the closure of Dar el-Kitab (The House of Books) stand and confiscated “The Tunisian Frankenstein,” author Kamel Riahi and his publisher told AFP.

The recently published volume in Arabic depicts Saied as a local version of Frankenstein, created by a people looking to reject the new political system in Tunisia after the 2011 revolution that launched the Arab Spring.

“I was told that my book had been confiscated and the publisher’s stand shut down,” Riahi told AFP from Canada where he lives.

He said the authorities had been “looking for a pretext to ban the book” since it came out.

“Security agents from the culture ministry confiscated the book and closed our stand after Saied’s visit,” Dar el-Kitab chief Habib Zoghbi told AFP.

His publishing house is one of the most important in the North African country.

Zoghbi said they cited “possession of an unauthorized book” as justification for their actions.

He said the stand originally had 100 copies of the book on display.

“We sold 80 and they confiscated the rest,” he said.

A video uploaded by the publisher showed his stand covered in a black cloth, and also the booths of at least five more publishers that had closed in solidarity.

Tunisian commentator “10 Million Politicians” posted on social networks: “Freedom of thought lasted exactly 45 minutes at the Book Fair under the reign of Kais Saied.”

The president won a landslide victory in a 2019 general election but assumed wide-reaching powers in a July 2021 power grab.

He has since ruled by decree, and last year rammed through a constitution that gave his office unlimited powers and neutered parliament.

Journalists and human rights groups often protest against what they call a “repressive” government policy aimed at intimidating the media and silencing critics.

Since February this year, the authorities have jailed more than 20 opponents, including former ministers, businessmen and the owner of the country’s most listened to radio station, Mosaique FM.

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