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Tunisia judge orders jail for Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi

Former parliament speaker set to be imprisoned, as opposition party meetings are shut down and arrests ramp up
Rached Ghannouchi, head of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party, arrives at the office of Tunisia's counter-terrorism prosecutor in Tunis on 19 July 2022 (AFP)
Rached Ghannouchi, head of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party, arrives at the office of Tunisia's counter-terrorism prosecutor in Tunis, 19 July 2022 (AFP)

Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s main opposition party, Ennahda, is to be imprisoned on the orders of a Tunisian investigative judge, his lawyer said on Thursday. 

"It was a ready decision to imprison Ghannouchi only because of [his] expression of his opinion," lawyer Monia Bouali told Reuters.

Tunisian police on Monday raided the 81-year-old's home and arrested him on the basis of accusations that he was plotting against internal state security. He was reportedly transferred to a hospital when his health deteriorated.

Yusra Ghannouchi, the party leader’s daughter, told Middle East Eye on Thursday that 100 plain-clothed officers had arrived at her parents’ home to search the property during the arrest.

“The search took almost two hours after which they took my father,” she said. “He had not been able to break his fast or have his iftar.” 

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Yusra said that her father was not allowed any visitors, and refused to answer any questions for almost two days without the presence of his lawyers. 

She added that the interrogation began on Wednesday night and lasted nine hours, after which he was charged with “conspiracy against state security” and ordered to be detained.

“My father is 81 years old. He suffers from hypertension,” she said. “We are worried about his condition, particularly in terms of the inhumane and harsh conditions.” 

“We should not be talking about the detention conditions because he is innocent. This is a completely politicised case.”

'Political targeting'

Ghannouchi, the former speaker of Tunisia's parliament, has been investigated by authorities for money laundering and incitement to violence, charges he denies and that his supporters claim are politically motivated. 

In a pre-recorded video message published on his Facebook page on Thursday, he said: "We are facing another episode of political targeting by judicial means."

"We do not have a problem with the judiciary, but we do have a problem with dictatorship. The battle in the country is between democracy and dictatorship, which wants to confiscate the gains of our blessed revolution.

"The cases filed against us are meaningless, as testified by legal experts."

Following the arrest, Tunisia’s minister of interior banned Ennahda and the National Salvation Front, the largest opposition coalition movement, from holding meetings, according to documents obtained by Middle East Eye. 

'We should not be talking about the detention conditions because he is innocent'

- Yusra Ghannouchi, daughter

A decree signed by Kamal al-Feki instructs security services and interior officials to "immediately" prohibit Ennahda from meeting across the country and the National Salvation Front from gathering in the capital.

Yousef Al-Nouri, a leader in Ennahda, and Ahmed Al-Mashrqi, the President of the Office of Parliament, were also arrested on Monday, with their arrest warrants renewed on Wednesday night. 

“It is not only my father. There have been arrests… [of] prominent politicians and civil society activists from across the political spectrum,” Yusra told MEE. 

“This is just an attempt by Saied to disrupt these attempts by the opposition to build a broad coalition opposing his coup and an attempt also to distract from his dismal failures to manage the economy.”

She added that progress on human rights and freedoms since Tunisia's 2010 revolution were at "grave risk".

'Constitutional coup'

Ghannouchi is the latest of many Ennahda party members who have been arrested by Tunisian police.

In February, senior Ennahda party leader Said Ferjani was detained, and Ali Laarayedh - the country's former prime minister - has been detained since December 2022.

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In the past month, about 30 political activists, judges, lawyers, and the head of a radio station have been arrested and accused of conspiring against national security.

In July 2021, Saied unilaterally suspended parliament and dissolved the government, in what has been dubbed a "constitutional coup". He subsequently ruled by decree, before pushing through a new constitution that enshrined his one-man rule.

Ennahda controlled the majority of seats in the Tunisian parliament before the power grab. 

Ghannouchi, who is a fierce critic of Saied's power grab, had a travel ban issued against him last year. His Tunisian bank accounts and those of several relatives and members of his party were also frozen.

On Wednesday, US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel condemned Ghannouchi’s arrest and the closure of Ennahda’s headquarters as "fundamentally at odds with the principles Tunisians adopted in a constitution". 

Mustafa Sentop, speaker of the Turkish parliament, tweeted concern over the arrest on Thursday, expressing hope that "friendly and brotherly Tunisia will undo this mistake that also contradicts its constitution and laws".

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