Tunisian president’s crackdown leads to arrest and detentions

Four members of the Ennahdha movement were arrested before being freed.

Tunisia Protests
Tunisia Protests

Tunisian authorities jailed an opposition politician and briefly detained four members of the powerful Islamist movement Ennahdha in the wake of the president’s decision to seize exceptional powers, according to Tunisian media reports.

The Ennahdha members were brought before investigating magistrates and accused of trying to incite violence outside the parliament building after President Kais Saied’s announcement, according to party official Riadh Chaidi.

The four were questioned but later released for lack of proof of violence, Mr Chaidi said.

The president suspended parliament, lifted the immunity of parliament members, fired the prime minister and took control of the executive branch.

He said the move was necessary to save the country amid public anger at the government over joblessness, rising prices and one of Africa’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

But Mr Saied’s decision raised concerns about Tunisia’s young democracy.

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied (Hedi Azouz/AP)
Tunisia’s President Kais Saied (Hedi Azouz/AP)

Critics, most notably Ennahdha, accused him of a coup.

Ennahdha has been a major player in Tunisian legislative elections since the country’s 2011 revolution, which unleashed the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.

The next day, Ennahdha supporters skirmished with backers of the president outside parliament, but the crowd was eventually dispersed by police.

Among those detained on Friday were the bodyguard of Ennahdha leader and parliament speaker Rachid Ghannouchi, his protocol officer and a member of the party’s advisory council.

The four were accused of inciting people from a working-class neighbourhood close to parliament to bring sticks to carry out acts of violence during the rally, according to the official TAP news agency.

“There was no link with violence,” said Mr Chaidi, a member of the party’s executive bureau.

“Violence is not a choice of Ennahdha.”

He sought to minimise the detentions, and played down concerns that they were a sign of a government crackdown singling out his party.

Parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi sits in his car outside the entrance of the parliament(Hedi Azouz/AP)
Parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi sits in his car outside the entrance of the parliament(Hedi Azouz/AP)

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke Saturday with Tunisia’s president and conveyed President Joe Biden’s strong support for the people of Tunisia and for Tunisian democracy, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a White House press release.

Also Friday, outspoken parliamentarian Yassine Ayari was arrested outside his home, according to a Facebook post by his party, the Hope and Action Movement.

His lawyer Mokhtar Jemai said Mr Ayari was apparently arrested in connection with a June 30 court conviction, but was not informed of the reason for conviction.

Mr Ayari has spoken out against the military and the government and faced legal problems in the past, but no longer enjoys parliamentary immunity because of the president’s decisions.

On Thursday, the president named a new interior minister, his first major appointment since the shakeup.

Ridha Gharsallaoui, a former national security adviser to the presidency, will now head the interior ministry, which oversees domestic security, including policing.

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