Tunisian human rights advocates called on President Kais Saied to stop the "rhetoric of treason and defamation against his opponents", which they said would increase tensions and hate in the country. They also demanded that he stop threatening officials working in state institutions.
The Democratic Current Party also called on Saied to set a time limit for the exceptional measures he put in place, and to stop "distorting the image" of its Secretary-General, Ghazi Chaouachi.
Some 33 human rights figures, including former deputies and ministers, signed a statement expressing their solidarity with the former Minister of Agriculture, Samir Bettaieb, who was arrested in relation to "a deal concluded between the ministry and a private media company in 2014, that is, before he took charge of the ministry."
They pointed out that Bettaieb's arrest "came in a general atmosphere characterised by incitement and hatred, and he was personally exposed to a campaign of distortion, fallacies and insults on social media platforms. We also strongly condemn the intrusion into his home, the theft of its contents, and the intimidation of his wife and family, in legally criminal practices that we thought were over and done with."
The signatories of the statement, which was published on social media on Monday, called on Saied to "permanently desist from speeches of treason, defamation, violence and ridicule of his opponents, speeches that only increase the situation in tension, division and disseminate hatred."
"We also call on him to stop employing state institutions, putting pressure on them and threatening those in charge of them, especially the judiciary." Calling on the judiciary to "adhere to their independence, rule of law, respect the presumption of innocence, and not submit to any political pressures, threats or blackmail."
Tunisian authorities have arrested eight officials, including Bettaieb, on charges related to "suspicion of committing crimes in violation of the legislative and regulatory provisions guaranteeing freedom of participation and equal opportunities in public deals and money laundering, in relation to a request for bids related to media equipment for the benefit of the Ministry of Agriculture, with a value exceeding 800,000 TND [$282,050]," according to a statement by the Court of First Instance in the capital.
Bettaieb and three other officials in the ministry were handed jail terms.
Saied has held nearly total power since 25 July when he sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority citing a national emergency.
He appointed a prime minister on 29 September and a government has since been formed.
The majority of the country's political parties slammed the move as a "coup against the constitution" and the achievements of the 2011 revolution. Critics say Saied's decisions have strengthened the powers of the presidency at the expense of parliament and the government, and that he aims to transform the country's government into a presidential system.
On more than one occasion, Saied, who began a five-year presidential term in 2019, said that his exceptional decisions are not a coup, but rather measures within the framework of the constitution to protect the state from "imminent danger".