2 top officials of Tunisia's moderate Islamist party arrested while its leader languishes in jail

Tunisian officials have detained a former prime minister for questioning then freed him hours later

Bouazza Ben Bouazza
Wednesday 06 September 2023 14:34 BST

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Tunisian officials detained a former prime minister for questioning then freed him hours later early Wednesday, but jailed two top officials in the moderate Islamist Ennahdha party whose leader has been imprisoned, the official news agency said.

A statement by Ennahdha said the party’s interim president, Mondher Ounissi, and the head of its Shura council, an internal parliament, Abdelkarim Harouni, were both arrested on Tuesday. That information later appeared on TAP news agency, citing the party.

According to Ennahdha, Ounissi, who is standing in for jailed party leader Rached Ghannouchi, was stopped Tuesday night by security forces while driving his car and taken to “an unknown destination.”

The party demanded his release and denounced a “malevolent campaign” aimed at “hurting the Islamist movement and its leaders.” Ennahdha also criticized the arrest of Harouni, expressing concern that his health would be compromised after receiving burns in a recent fire at party headquarters. Harouni had been under house arrest since Saturday.

Meanwhile, TAP news agency reported that the former prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, a one-time top official of Ennahdha, was freed by a judge after seven hours of questioning.

TAP quoted Jebali’s lawyer, Samir Dilou, as saying that his client was questioned “about appointments and missions during his tenure” of nearly two years in 2011-2013, after the Tunisian revolution ousted longtime autocratic leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Jebali had previously spent some 15 years in prison.

The former and current officials are among numerous opponents of President Kais Saied. Some have been caught up in Saied’s anti-corruption campaign, others suspected of plotting against the security of the state.

One Ennahdha leader, Riadh Chahaibi, said the arrests were "a new episode of attacks on democracy and freedoms in Tunisia.” He claimed authorities were looking to “paralyze (Ennahdha) through calculated moves that have led to the incarceration of dozes of its leaders and the closing of its headquarters.” The Ennahdha party congress is scheduled to be held in October.

Ghannouchi, the 82-year-old founder and long-time leader of the Islamist party, served as speaker of the Ennahdha-led parliament until Saied took all powers into his own hands in July 2021, freezing parliament and announcing he would rule by decree.

Ghannouchi, who has maintained that Saied’s actions amounted to a coup, was arrested earlier this year and sentenced to a year in prison for allegedly referring to police officers as tyrants in what his party said was a sham trial.

The Tunisian president’s moves against opponents come amid growing economic and social woes in the North African country, the birthplace of the Arab Spring pro-democracy movement more than a decade ago.

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