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Tunisia: MP Faycal Tebini arrested over 'defamation on social media'

Independent lawmaker Faycal Tebini says he has been detained amid crackdown on several MPs since President Kais Saied's power grab last week
Faycal Tebini is the fourth MP to be arrested since President Kais Saied's suspension of parliament and seizure of executive and judicial powers on 25 July (Facebook)

Independent MP Faycal Tebini was arrested on Monday over "defamation on social media", according to a post on his Facebook page.

Tebini is the fourth MP to be arrested since President Kais Saied's suspension of parliament and seizure of executive and judicial powers on 25 July, in what his opponents have called "a constitutional coup".

It remains unclear which social media posts are behind his arrest, or which charges have been brought against the MP, who is also the founder and leader of the small Farmers' Voice Party. 

However, two days ago, former MP Sabrine Goubantini published a Facebook post in which she said that on 5 October 2020, she had filed a complaint against Tebini with the Public Prosecutor at the Court of First Instance in Tunis, accusing him of defamation and slander against her through a media outlet and on social media.

She explained that she was summoned on 17 February 2021 by the National Guard in Al-Awina to give her statement in this regard, and raised a question on why he has not been summoned following Saied's decision to lift the immunity of MPs. "Since he no longer has parliamentary immunity, why isn’t he summoned by the judiciary to investigate my complaint?" she wrote.

The arrest comes two days after two members of an Islamist party in Tunisia were rounded up following last week's power grab by President Kais Saied.

Maher Zid and Mohamed Affes, both members of the Al-Karama party, were arrested by Tunisian security services, party head Seifeddine Makhlouf said on Facebook.

The two were placed in provisional detention in connection with a military investigation, he added.

Their arrest late Saturday came a day after the detention of an independent MP, Yassine Ayari.

Ayari was arrested for branding Saied's decision last Sunday to suspend parliament and sack the prime minister and other top officials as a "military coup".

Saied has plunged the country into further political turmoil since his decision on Sunday to freeze parliament, oust the prime minister and assume executive and judicial powers in Tunisia for a period of 30 days. He has so far not presented a roadmap for his plan.

The president also lifted the parliamentary immunity of lawmakers, paving the way for their potential prosecution. Saied justified the move by citing article 80 of the constitution, which allows the head of state to take unspecified exceptional measures in the event of an "imminent threat".

The Tunisian constitution states that "measures necessitated by this exception situation" can be used, but that there must be a consultation with the speaker of parliament and that the constitutional court must be informed - an institution that has not yet been created in Tunisia, one of the main unfulfilled promises of the 2011 revolution. 

The absence of the court means that there is now no mechanism to evaluate whether the circumstances were appropriate to invoke Article 80.

The purge of top officials has so far targeted at least 25 people.