Some report that the joke in question at Abdelli’s one-man comedy show may have been about giving a middle finger to the police, political parties and the president.
Tunisian police have reportedly stormed a one-man comedy show in the city of Sfax and “assaulted” one of Tunisia’s best-known comedians after a joke about President Kais Saied and the country’s law enforcement agencies.
Officers interrupted the show at the Sidi Mansour theater on Sunday and tried to drag renowned comedian Lotfi Abdelli off the stage after jokes against the president who has been accused of obtaining “dictatorial powers” following a recent power grab.
The 10,000-strong audience chanted in support of the comedian as police attempted to remove the comedian, forcing them to retreat.
“Start live streams and record videos,” the comedian told the crowd, as police tried to prevent journalists from recording the incident.
“Oh Kais [Saied] wake up and see what is hapenning in your country,” added the comedian who refused to budget.
It appears the trouble started after the comedian waved a middle finger as he spoke about the police, political parties, and the president.
Cops decided to withdraw from the Sfax International Festival after uproar from the crowd stopped their attempts to detain the comedian.
“I have been a victim of a murder attempt,” said Mohamed Boudhina, Lotfi Abdelli’s producer, in a Mosaique FM interview on Monday.
Boudhina claimed he was beaten as he tried to protect Abdelli.
The producer said he went to hospital following injuries suffered during the incident.
In an official statement, Tunisia’s interior ministry acknowledged “tension” between police and Abdelli at the show but laid blame on the comedian’s jokes.
“It is important to note that the mentioned artist did an unethical gesture towards security forces which created tension among those present on the scene,” the statement read.
The ministry of interior added that a request for an official investigation into the incident was filed and an additional internal investigation was launched within the ministry’s General Inspectorate.
Chokri Hmada, a police union spokesperson, told Tunisian National Radio on Monday morning that officers will no longer provide security for any shows they deem “unfit for public taste”, despite the continued dangers posed by extremists.
The police official cited article 226 of the Tunisian penal code, which incriminates “unethical conduct” to justify the police’s decision.
“We won’t be a party to any ethical crime,” added Chokri Hmada, the spokesperson for the Interior Security Forces Syndicates.
The Islamic State group has targeted tourist attractions and other locations since 2015, killing dozens of civilians and security forces.
The Orwellian scene has triggered controversy around the North African country, with many asking if irony will now be outlawed under Saied’s rule.
Many Tunisians from across the political spectrum have voiced support for Abdelli.
Following Sunday’s events, Lotfi Abdelli canceled all his future shows as he announced in a Facebook post his decision to leave Tunisia for good.
“I will definitely leave Tunisia… you have stolen the little hope I had,” the comedian wrote after the incident.
Freedom of speech in the birthplace of the Arab Spring has receded since President Kais Saied seized extraordinary powers last year, dissolving the government and parliament.
Saied’s new constitution, which went to a referendum but was boycotted by much of the public, is expected to exacerbate the situation.
Tunisia’s state of freedom deteriorated from 73 in 2021 to 94 in 2022, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).