US condemns 'troubling escalation' of opposition arrests in Tunisia

US condemns 'troubling escalation' of opposition arrests in Tunisia
The US has condemned recent arrests of opposition figures - including former parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi - by President Kais Saied's government in Tunisia.
2 min read
Ghannouchi was detained as part of a crackdown on the Ennahdha Party [Getty]

The US government on Wednesday condemned the arrests of political opponents in Tunisia, and said respect for freedom of expression and human rights are essential "to the US-Tunisia relationship."

The arrest on Monday of former Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi and the closure of the Ennahdha party headquarters "are fundamentally at odds with the principles Tunisians adopted in a constitution," State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said.

He said the arrests "represent a troubling escalation by the Tunisian government against perceived opponents."

Since early February, authorities in the North African country have arrested more than 20 political opponents and personalities.

The Islamist-inspired opposition Ennahdha party held the most seats in Tunisia's parliament before President Kais Saied dissolved the chamber in July 2021.

Saied, 65, claims those detained were "terrorists" involved in a "conspiracy against state security."

Opponents have dubbed his actions a "coup" and a return to autocratic rule in the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings in the region more than a decade ago.

Live Story

After his power grab, Saied has ruled by decree, and last year rammed through a constitution that gave his office unlimited powers and neutered parliament.

Speaking at a ceremony on Tuesday, Saied called on the judiciary - of which he seized control last year - to "fulfil its role in this phase the country is going through."

Tunisia is heavily indebted and facing high inflation and unemployment, leading some of its citizens to try fleeing to Europe, drawing concern from the European Union.

The EU earlier recalled the "importance of respect for the rights of the defence as well as the right to a fair trial" in Tunisia.

Ghannouchi was exiled for more than two decades under late dictator Zine El Abidine Ali, but returned following the country's 2011 revolt to become a dominant figure in Tunisian politics.

In recent months, Ghannouchi made at least 10 court appearances over an array of accusations including corruption, money laundering and helping jihadists travel to Iraq and Syria.

He emerged each time smiling and flashing the victory sign.