Tunisia: HRW calls on President Saied to release ex-prime minister
Human Rights Watch has called on Tunisia to release former prime minister and senior Ennahda leader Ali Laarayedh from detention, as President Kais Saied continues his crackdown against any opposition and critical media inside the country.
Laareyedh, who served as Tunisia's interior minister from December 2011 to February 2013 and prime minister between March 2013 and January 2014, has been held on terrorism charges since December 2022 without seeing a judge.
According to his detention warrant, the 67-year-old stands accused of failing to curb the spread of the Salafi interpretation of Islam and the growth of the Islamist armed group Ansar al-Sharia during his time in office.
The warrant issued by an investigative judge in the Tunis First Instance Court's Anti-Terrorism Unit accused Laarayedh of "not addressing or fighting the Salafi phenomenon" - despite Salafism not being banned in Tunisia - and "the organisation of Ansar al-Sharia in the necessary way, thus contributing to the expansion of their activities…and the increase in the departure of young people to hotbeds of tension for jihad”.
The judge also accused Laarayedh of "not dealing with Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist organisation" despite his government banning the terrorist group in August 2013.
Tunisian police have also summoned Ennahda's leader Rached Ghannouchi and other senior party leaders for questioning about how so many Tunisians went to fight overseas.
Laarayedh's lawyers told HRW that the former minister was not questioned following his arrest but was interviewed by the police Anti-Terrorist Unit on 20 September 2022 and an investigative judge on 19 December.
They added that Laarayedh was questioned about his management style and decisions related to religious fundamentalism while in office, but not about how Tunisians left the country to join armed groups overseas.
Salsabil Chellali, HRW's Tunisia director, said his arrest is another example of Saied's crackdown against political opposition inside the country.
“Based on the available information, Laarayedh’s prosecution seems like one more example of President Saied’s authorities trying to silence leaders of the Ennahda party and other opponents by tarring them as terrorists,” said Chellali.
“The authorities should immediately free Laarayedh and other political figures and critics they are holding in the absence of credible evidence of crimes.”
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. Amnesty International has described the crackdown as a "politically motivated witch hunt".