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Saied is taking Tunisia back to the era of secret prisons, opposition says

Former Tunisian Minister of Justice, Noureddine Bhiri, speaks to journalists upon his arrival to attend a meeting at Ennahda party headquarters in February 2013 [Alquds]
Former Tunisian Minister of Justice, Noureddine Bhiri, speaks to journalists upon his arrival to attend a meeting at Ennahda party headquarters in February 2013 [Alquds]

The news of the arrest of the Vice President of the Ennahda movement, Noureddine Bhiri, has rekindled the controversy over the existence of "secret prisons" in the country, especially in light of the statements of Bhiri's defence team about putting him in one of the "secret prisons" that existed under the regime of former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, which is supposed to be closed for many years.

At a press conference held by Bhiri's defence team on Monday in the capital, a member of the body, attorney Abderrazak Kilani, said that Bhiri is currently considered "in a case of enforced disappearance, which is a crime that has no statute of limitations," criticising the way Bhiri was "abducted," which he said was similar to the mafia's work, as there was a breach of the immunity he enjoyed as a representative of the people and a lawyer.

A member of the committee, Samir Dilo, said that Bhiri "is currently in the resuscitation ward of the Habib Bougatfa hospital in Bizerte (north). However, his defence committee does not know where he was brought from. The committee doubts the three places that could be considered as the place of detention of Bhiri before his transfer to the hospital, which are either barracks in Menzel Jemil in Bizerte, an agricultural training centre in Menzel Jemil or a house that was used before the revolution (by the regime of Ben Ali) to detain political opponents who are tortured in unofficial places.

READ: Saied denies connection with Marzouki imprisonment

"Kais Saied speaks frequently about dark rooms, yet today the world has discovered that he is the owner of dark rooms and hidden corridors. All of his decisions rendered by a small gang operating in dark rooms, and this has resulted in the abduction of activists to hide them in dark ghost houses", Rafik Abdessalem, a leader of the Ennahda movement wrote.

"The government that abducts its citizens and violates their legitimate rights by using obsolete and unconstitutional legal texts that were formulated in the era of tyranny to repress and intimidate opponents, regardless of the justifications or possible crimes that are attributed to them, is a rogue government, beyond the constitution and law, and not worthy of respect; everyone must encounter this dangerous perversion of power," Ghazi Chaouachi, Secretary-General of the Democratic Current Party wrote.

"The state has no right to establish secret prisons or to arrest a citizen outside of legal formulas, whether that citizen is Noureddine Bhiri or someone else. The invocation of Order No: 50 of 1978, the same as the case of military trials of civilians, is a scandal in post-revolution Tunisia," Mohamed Hamdi, Chaouachi's deputy, posted on Facebook.

"One of the feats of civil society, which has remained an exception in its Arab and African environment for the defence of human rights, which has always raised the slogan 'All rights for all people', is transformed now into a suffocating political storehouse that carrying an 'inhumane' filtering of victims, it is an identity-based sorting," former Minister, Mehdi Mabrouk, wrote.

Abdelwahab El Hani, leader of the Al Majd Party, added: "The state of law cannot violate the law, nor can it allow the existence of secret detention places or secret services, neither inside nor outside state agencies. The Solicitor General and public prosecutors must investigate the existence of secret, illegal and undeclared places of detention within their judicial jurisdictions, and to visit, inspect and order immediate closure and sealing of them. Also, to carry out the necessary judicial investigations, to initiate the legal punishment for their illegal presence, with their human rights violations that took place there.  The state of law is a whole entity that cannot be divided. All places of detention are subject to mandatory inspection by the General Agency, and are mandatory submitted to the preventive control of the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture."

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"The arrest of the former Minister of Justice, Noureddine Bhiri, by force and putting him in an unknown location without prior notification, without a reasoned written decision to place him under house arrest, in the absence of a judicial decision, without going through the judicial authority, the same as for the former security officer, with withholding any information from the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture, according to the Commission in its latest statement, are practices that fall outside the scope of the law. It is unconditionally rejected, because such a slip is one of the indicators that the entire state is outside the law; it threatens to overturn the rights of all Tunisian civilians and subjects them to arbitrariness. Beware of this dangerous perversion of power." Rawda Al-Qarafi, Honorary President of the Association of Tunisian Judges said.

The commission had previously denounced the rejection of the Tunisian authorities to inform it of Bhiri's place and to allow it to visit him, noting that Tunisia "is a member state in the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) since 2011.

Tunisia's president Kais Saied is bleeding the country - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Tunisia's president Kais Saied is bleeding the country – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

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