Health of prominent Tunisian opposition figure deteriorating in jail

Health of prominent Tunisian opposition figure deteriorating in jail
The co-founder of an opposition coalition in Tunisia is reported to have suffered a stroke in detention.
2 min read
22 July, 2023
Ben Mbarek was detained in February 2023 during a major crackdown by authorities on dissent [Getty/archive]

A Tunisian human rights body has warned of the deteriorating health condition of a main opposition figure currently in prison, saying he was showing signs of a stroke.

The Commission for the Defence of Political Prisoners in Tunisia accused prison authorities of deliberately stalling in providing Jaouhar Ben Mbarek with necessary healthcare, despite him requesting aid from his guards.

Ben Mbarek, co-founder of the National Salvation Front (NSF), is being kept at the Mornaguia prison in Tunisia’s Manouba governorate.

His NSF was founded in 2022, less than a year after President Kais Saied’s power grab which has seen dozens of his critics jailed.

The commission demanded that authorities at the Mornaguia prison examine Ben Mbarek and monitor his health situation, holding it "fully responsible for the consequences of any negligence."

His sister, who acts as his lawyer, said in a Facebook post that she noticed a change in the colour of her brother’s face, and cyanosis (a bluish discoloration) around his eyes when she visited him in detention.

"He told me that he felt sharp pain in the chest, numbness in the hands, inability to breathe and nausea, then he fainted," she said.

Ben Mbarek’s father said he will consider President Saied and all those responsible for his son’s arrest "criminally responsible" should anything happen to him.

The NSF founder was arrested on 24 February during a major crackdown on opposition figures in the North African country. Activists, journalists, politicians and judges have been arrested.

Saied has said they were conspiring against the state and went as far as to label some of them terrorists, among other accusations including corruption and terror financing.

He has defended his move in July 2021 to sack the government and dissolve parliament as "necessary" to "save Tunisia" from the Islamist-inspired Ennahda Movement, which had the largest number of seats in parliaments. His critics have called the move a coup.

Among those behind bars are Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi.

In addition to Tunisia’s political crisis, the country of about 12 million has been shaken by a severe financial crisis and is searching for foreign aid.