Tunisian judge sentences opposition leader Ghannouchi to jail
A Tunisian investigative judge ordered on Thursday the imprisonment of Rached Ghannouchi, a prominent critic of President Kais Saied, and the leader of the strongest opposition party, Ennahda, in the North African state.
The verdict was announced past 5:00 A.M. Lawyers and activists stayed the night, roaming Tunis court lobbies waiting for the judge's decision after an investigation that lasted over eight hours, according to his defence team.
Arrested on Monday, Ghannouchi is accused of plotting against internal state security.
A day prior to his arrest, he said in an opposition meeting that "Tunisia without Ennahda, without political Islam, without the left, or any other component, is a project for civil war."
An interior ministry official has confirmed to the Tunisian state news agency that those statements stand behind his arrest.
The Ennahda leader was arrested along with his driver and two other figures of the Islamist party.
"After the pleadings, it was decided to release the leaders Muhammad al-Qumani, Belkacem Hassan, and Ghannouchi's driver,” Saber Al-Obaidi, a member of Ghannouchi's defence team, told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
Legally, he could stay in custody for up to fourteen months pending trial.
On Tuesday, the family of the 81-year-old politician said he was hospitalised after a rough treatment during his investigation at Aouina police station in Tunis. Ghannouchi was reportedly denied rest during the night-long investigation.
“When he wanted to use the bathroom, they stipulated that the door should remain open and he stubbornly refused," his son-in-law told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
After the judge's decision, Ghannouchi's official Facebook page published a comment reading, "I am optimistic about the future ... Tunisia is free".
The Islamist leader was the speaker of the elected parliament, which was shut down in 2021 by President Saied when he seized all extraordinary powers.
On Tuesday, Tunisian authorities raided Ghannouchi’s party of Ennahda and banned meetings at all offices of the Islamist party and police closed the headquarters of the Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition.
In reaction to the judge's decision, the Salvation Front said, "This charge constitutes conclusive evidence of the failure of the authorities to mount a serious judicial case against the head of the Ennahda Party and its number one leader."
Ennahda movement said it fears the move will pave the way for banning the party in an urgent press conference after their leader’s arrest.
The US said Ghannouchi's arrest, the closure of Ennahda's headquarters and the banning of meetings by opposition groups represented a "troubling" escalation.
Ghannouchi, who was in exile in the 1990s and returned during Tunisia's 2011 revolution, has said those who "celebrated the coup are extremists and terrorists".
Over the past year, the opposition figure faced repeated rounds of judicial questioning on charges relating to Ennahda's finances and to allegations it helped Islamists travel to Syria for jihad, charges he and the party both deny.
This year, Tunisian authorities have detained so far over twenty leading political figures and journalists who have accused Saied of a coup for his moves to close parliament and rule by decree before rewriting a controversial constitution.