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Tunisian police arrest prominent opponent of President Kais Saied

Tunisian authorities have arrested Abir Moussi, according to her lawyer and aide, in latest arrest in Saied's crackdown on opposition
Abir Moussi speaks to the media during a protest demanding the dissolution of parliament and asking for early legislative elections, in Tunis, Tunisia on 20 November 2021.
Abir Moussi speaks to media during a protest demanding dissolution of parliament and asking for early legislative elections, in Tunis, Tunisia, on 20 November 2021 (Reuters)

Tunisian authorities arrested Abir Moussi, a lawyer and prominent political opponent of President Kais Saied, at the entrance to the presidential palace on Tuesday, according to her lawyer and an aide.

"What happened was a kidnapping in front of the presidency, and she is being held at the police station," said lawyer Nafaa Laribi, as quoted by Reuters.

An assistant of Moussi said in a video posted on Facebook that Moussi was "kidnapped" in front of the Carthage Palace, the name for Tunisia's presidential palace in the capital Tunis.

Dozens of Moussi supporters protested against Saied outside the La Goulette police station on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, Moussi said in a video that she went to the presidential office to file an appeal in local elections expected at the end of the year. Moussi, the head of the Free Constitutional Party, is a supporter of late president Zine El Abidine ben Ali, who was toppled by mass protests in 2011.

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The arrest is the latest in a slew of opposition figures being jailed by Tunisian authorities. On Friday, opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi, another critic of Saied who was sentenced to a year in prison, began a hunger strike in support of other imprisoned opposition figures.

Following in his lead, five other detainees - Issam Chebbi; Ghazi Chaouachi; Abdel Hamid Jlassi; Khayam Turki; and Ridha Belhaj - all imprisoned in February without having gone through a trial, said they would begin hunger strikes on Monday.

Tunisia's former president, Moncef Marzouki, warned on Monday that if Ghannouchi were to die in prison, then Saied would be guilty of murder.

“If this man dies in prison, you will be accountable for the murder because you knew that putting a man like this in prison is a death penalty sentence,” Marzouki said at a conference held Monday in Washington DC for political prisoners in Tunisia, referring to Ghannouchi.

Tunisia's sweeping crackdown

Ghannouchi was arrested in April and sentenced a month later in absentia to a year in prison. The move was a high-profile escalation by Saied's government, given Ghannouchi's status as the leader of Tunisia's main opposition party. 

Tunisian police have detained more than 20 political prisoners this year.

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Activists and diplomats have described the recent arrests as a sweeping authoritarian crackdown by Saied that has imperiled one of the only democracies to emerge from the 2011 Arab Spring protests.

Saied, a former constitutional law professor, was democratically elected Tunisia’s president in 2019. Saied described himself as a political outsider who could take on Tunisia's established political parties, which oversaw growth in democracy but also mounting economic challenges in the country of 12 million.

In 2021, in plans previously reported on by Middle East Eye, he shuttered parliament and replaced it with a rubber-stamp assembly.

He went on to rewrite the country's constitution, consolidating his own power and has targeted political opponents. Meanwhile, his vow to fix the country’s ailing economy has fallen flat, as Tunisians cope with high inflation and shortages of basic goods.

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