The President of Tunisia has described covering his country's flag as an "act of aggression". GETTY IMAGES

It happened at a swim competition at Rades. The heads of Tunisia's swimming federation and national anti-doping organisation were arrested. They had covered the flag in response to a WADA sanction that banned it. "Tunisia is going to the IOC," said the Tunisian president. Nine people are currently the subject of criminal proceedings.

A spokesman for the public prosecutor's office told AFP on Monday: "The heads of the Tunisian swimming federation and ANAD were arrested after the country's flag was covered at a competition in Tunisia. The action was taken in response to sanctions imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which banned the use of the Tunisian flag at competitions. 

On Friday, during a championship organised by the national swimming federation at the Olympic pool in Radès, the flag was covered as a result of this sanction. This provoked an outraged reaction from Tunisian President Kais Saied, who described it as an "act of aggression".

According to spokesman Mohamed Sadok Jouini, an investigation has been launched and so far nine people are being prosecuted, including the two presidents, who have been in police custody since Saturday, and seven other officials, who were summoned to the Ben Arous court on Monday. Charges against them include "attacking the Tunisian flag", "forming an organised group to commit attacks and cause disorder" and "conspiring against the state's internal security", Jouini said.

The Tunisian flag was covered as a sanction by WADA in a swimming event in Radès. GETTY IMAGES
The Tunisian flag was covered as a sanction by WADA in a swimming event in Radès. GETTY IMAGES

Hours after the flag incident on Friday, a video released by the president's office showed Saied visiting the swimming pool near Tunis. He raised the flag and sang the national anthem. In a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani and other cabinet members, Saied said: "The country cannot tolerate this: Tunisia is going before the Olympic Committee and before any other committee."

In a statement issued overnight from Friday to Saturday, Tunisia's Ministry of Youth and Sport announced the dissolution of the swimming federation's board. It also dismissed the head of ANAD and a sports official based in Ben Arous, near Tunis. The decision followed "instructions" from President Saied "to take immediate measures... against those responsible for the incident of the hiding of the national flag", the statement said.

WADA, on the other hand, issued a statement on Monday evening saying it was "deeply concerned" by the reported arrest of the ANAD director general. It called for his "immediate and unconditional release from custody and the dropping of all related charges". 

WADA said: "Since the non-conformity in Tunisia was identified, WADA has been working with the authorities to resolve the matter expeditiously. "Indeed, excellent progress has been made in this regard. This makes this latest development all the more unfortunate and untimely." "The statement continued: "WADA remains confident that the matter will be resolved in the very near future."