Tunisia: opponent Rached Ghannouchi sentenced to one year in prison

Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Tunisian Islamo-conservative movement Ennahdha arrested in April, was sentenced to a year in prison on Monday for “apologizing for terrorism”, local media reported.

Main opponent of President Kais Saied, 81, was arrested on April 17 and placed under a warrant following statements in which he said that Tunisia would be threatened with a “civil war” if the left-wing parties or those from political Islam like Ennahdha were eliminated there.

But his conviction on Monday is linked to another case in which he was heard in February by the anti-terrorism judicial center before being released.

A complaint filed by a police union

His summons followed a complaint filed by a police union accusing him of inciting Tunisians to kill each other for having affirmed in early 2022 during funeral of an Ennahdha leader that the deceased “did not fear rulers or tyrants”. In addition to the one-year prison sentence, Rached Ghannouchi was sentenced to a fine of 1,000 dinars (300 euros), according to the same source.

The opponent, President Saied’s pet peeve, was also heard in November 2022 by a judge from the counter-terrorism judicial center for a case related to the alleged dispatch of jihadists to Syria and Iraq. Rached Ghannouchi is the most famous opponent arrested since the coup by President Kais Saied who took full power in July 2021.

The United States and Europe criticized his arrest in April, but President Saied dismissed the criticism, calling it “blatant interference” in Tunisian affairs. The day after his arrest, the Tunisian authorities closed the offices of his movement throughout the country. Since the beginning of February, the authorities have imprisoned more than 20 opponents and personalities including ex-ministers, businessmen and the owner of the most listened to radio station in the country, Mosaïque FM.

An authoritarian drift of power?

President Saied, accused by the opposition of authoritarian drift, described those arrested as “terrorists”, claiming that they were involved in a “conspiracy against state security”. After his coup, Kais Saied had the Constitution revised to establish an ultra-presidentialist system at the expense of Parliament.

In a report published on May 11, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) affirmed that “the Tunisian authorities have intensified their offensive against the opponents of the coup carried out in 2021 by President Kais Saied, by redoubling their efforts to neutralize Ennahdha, the largest political party in the country”.

“After having demonized Ennahdha and launched serious accusations without evidence, the authorities of President Saied have simply set out to dismantle the party,” said Salsabil Chellali, director of HRW’s office in Tunisia. “The authorities should immediately release all those arbitrarily detained, and end restrictions on freedom of ociation and embly,” added the NGO in its report.

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