TUNIS- Tunisia's independent media regulator HAICA said on Wednesday it had closed a television station, Nesma TV, owned by the Heart of Tunisia party leader Nabil Karoui, and a religious radio station, saying both were operating with a license.

The stations have been critical of President Kais Saied, who seized executive power in July in a move his opponents describe as a coup. The HAICA had also earlier this month closed Zaytouna, which was also unlicensed and critical of Saied.

The Nesma television station and Quran Kareem religious radio station have operated for years without a licence, irking media watchdogs that see them as illicit tools for political influence.

Since Saied seized power in July, some critics see any moves against media that oppose him as an attempt to undermine press freedoms and rights in Tunisia, which has been a democracy since the 2011 revolution.

Saied has since had wide support in Tunisia, where years of misgovernance, corruption, political paralysis and economic stagnation have been aggravated by a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases.

HAICA had fined Nesma for broadcasts it said exploited poor people and promoted the political agenda of the channel’s owner, businessman Nabil Karoui, a former presidential candidate and opponent of the president.

HAICA said both were shut for broadcasting without a license.

Officials at Nesma and Quran Kareem were not immediately available to comment.

"Nesma is owned by a leader in the Heart of Tunisia party, which was reflected in its contents, which violated the principles of freedom of audiovisual communication", the regulator said.

It added: "The Quran Radio was promoting hate speech to incite violence and hatred."

The Quran station is owned by Said Jaziri, a member of Parliament, which was suspended by the president in July.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Bernadette Baum) ((tarek.amara@thomsonreuters.com;))