Tunisia holds prominent critics of president in pre-trial detention
A Tunisian anti-terrorism investigative judge has decided to hold three prominent politicians and a high-profile businessman in pre-trial detention, their defense team said, amid a continuing crackdown targeting opposition figures.
The four men are the first to face a judicial hearing among over a dozen leading figures critical of President Kais Saied who have been detained this month.
The main charge against Abdelhamid Jlassi, a former senior official in the Ennahda party, former Finance Minister Khayam Turki, Republican Party leader Issam Chebbi and businessman Kamel Ltaif is conspiring against state security.
Lawyers for them and for some of the others detained said they were boycotting the hearings because conditions for a fair trial had not been met.
Late on Friday, police also detained Ghazi Chaouachi, another prominent critic of Saied, his son said. The arrests represent the biggest crackdown on opponents of Saied since he shut down the parliament and took control of most powers in 2021 before moving to rule by decree and writing a new constitution that he passed last year in a referendum.
Activists and political parties including Ennahda, which was the biggest in the parliament elected in 2019 and had played a role in successive coalition governments, have denounced Saied’s moves.
They have warned that other moves by Saied, including taking ultimate authority over the judiciary and passing a law mandating prison for people convicted of posting false information online, augur a return to autocracy in Tunisia.
Saied has said his actions in 2021 were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos, and has denied that he will become a dictator.
He has called his opponents traitors, terrorists and criminals, and said judges who fail to convict them should be regarded as accomplices.
The police, Interior Ministry and Justice Ministry have not commented on the detentions, which have also drawn in the head of Tunisia’s main independent media outlet Mosaique FM.
Saied has said some of those detained are behind food shortages that economists have blamed on a crisis in state finances.
Police have also detained a senior figure in the powerful UGTT labor union and several members of a police union on separate charges.
President Saied is now going after his critics with utter abandon,” said Salsabil Chellali, HRW’s Tunisia director.
“Saied is calling them terrorists and dispensing with the pretence of assembling credible evidence.”
France also urged Tunisia to protect “democratic gains” since the country’s revolultion.
“France expresses its concern at the recent waves of arrests ... and urges the Tunisian authorities to ensure respect for individual and public freedoms, in particular freedom of expression,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.