Tunisia arrests senior Ennahda figure, radio boss

Tunisia arrests senior Ennahda figure, radio boss
A senior figure in Tunisia's Ennahda movement party and the head of a popular radio station have been arrested in the North African country.
3 min read
14 February, 2023
Ennahda's Bhiri was detained for more than eight weeks early last year [Getty/archive]

Tunisian police have detained a senior figure in the Islamist-inspired Ennahda party and the head of an independent radio station, the party and Tunisian media reported.

The arrests of former justice minister Noureddine Bhiri and Mosaique FM director Noureddine Boutar on Monday night were the latest in a crackdown that has targeted activists, former lawyers and a prominent businessman.

Dozens of police officers raided Bhiri's house in Tunis and "took him to an unknown location," Ennahda spokesman Abdelfattah Taghouti told AFP.

Bhiri, 64, had been detained for more than eight weeks early last year, a few months after President Kais Saied froze the Ennahda-dominated parliament in a power grab his opponents have described as a coup.

During his detention, Bhiri staged a hunger strike, stopped taking medicines and was hospitalised before agreeing to be fed by drip.

He was later released but remains under investigation on charges related to "terrorism", according to authorities.

Mosaique FM, a popular news station, reported that police had also detained Boutar without indicating what he was accused of.

The arrests came two days after the arrest of tycoon Kamel Eltaief, former top Ennahda figure Abdelhamid Jelassi and political activist Khayam Turki.

Many Tunisians saw Eltaief, a former confidant of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, as a symbol of corruption in the North African nation.

But his arrest comes amid a spike in prosecutions against politicians, journalists and other rivals of Saied, often in military courts, since the president's dramatic move against parliament and the Ennahda-backed government in July 2021.

Since then, Saied's opponents have accused him of bringing back authoritarian rule in the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Several Tunisian media outlets have reported that those arrested at the weekend were suspected of "plotting against state security".

The UN rights chief on Tuesday expressed alarm over the deepening crackdown. 

"UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk today expressed his concern over the deepening crackdown against perceived political opponents and civil society in Tunisia, including attacks on the independence of the judiciary," Turk's spokesman Jeremy Laurence told reporters in Geneva.

"Since Saturday, at least nine people, including former civil servants, have been reportedly arrested and some detained, on security and graft charges," he said.

Laurence said the UN rights office was calling on Tunisian authorities to "respect due process and fair trial standards in all judicial proceedings and to release immediately all those arbitrarily detained."

He said Tunisia had "increasingly initiated criminal proceedings against perceived opponents" and expressed concern that "some of those held on charges connected to criticising the government have been tried in military courts".

"We call on the authorities to cease immediately practices of trying civilians before military tribunals."

"We call on the authorities to work towards bringing justice sector legislation, procedures and practices into line with applicable international norms and standards," he added.