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Tunisia: Arrest campaign continues with Ennahda opposition leader arrest

March 4, 2023 at 11:15 am

People gather during a solidarity protest with Rached Ghannouchi outside the courthouse in capital Tunis, Tunisia. [Yassine Gaidi – Anadolu Agency]

Tension has escalated between the Tunisian authorities and opponents of President Kais Saied against the backdrop of the recent ongoing campaign of arrests. The latest arrest was of Ennahda leader Habib Louz and the blocking of a march of the National Salvation Front, amid US condemnation of the restrictions.

Louz’s lawyer, Mokhtar Jamei, told Tunisian websites on Friday that they still do not know the whereabouts of his client after he was arrested in his car by civilians.

“Last night, I went to the headquarters of Al-Qarjani, and the security guards were confused, and I was informed by the two gate guards that my client was not there before I received a call from his family that news was circulating saying that he had been transferred to Charles Nicolle hospital,” he told Mosaique FM radio.

Lawyer Jamei stressed: “The sources of the news are unknown, and we do not know anything about his whereabouts, which means that this situation leads me to consider that Louz has been kidnapped.”

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In a related context, the opposition National Salvation Front expressed its rejection of the authorities’ decision to ban the march called for by the front and said that the decision was issued by: “An incompetent authority, for reasons unrelated to the law.”

Earlier on Thursday, the Tunisian state announced in a statement that it had rejected a request from the front to organise a March next Sunday because of: “Suspicions of conspiracy against the state security of some leaders of the Salvation Front.”

The opposition announced in a statement that it: “Rejects this invalid measure and upholds its right to demonstrate on 5 March at 10 am from Republic Square to Habib Bourguiba Street.”

The front includes six parties: the Ennahda Movement, Heart of Tunisia, Dignity Coalition, the Movement Party, the Hope Party (Al-Amal), the Workers’ Party and the campaign “Citizens Against the Coup”.

“The decision to ban targets is one of the most important gains of the revolution, namely the right to peaceful demonstration and free expression of opinion,” the front’s statement continued.

It pointed out: “The ban decision was issued by an incompetent authority, based on reasons that have nothing to do with the law. The governor of Tunisia is not competent to decide on the fate of the media by demonstrating. Public meetings and demonstrations are free and can be held without prior authorisation according to the operative chapter of the First Law No. 4 of 1969 on public meetings and demonstrations.”

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The statement continued that the responsible authorities: “Cannot decide to prevent the meeting unless it is expected to disrupt security or public order.”

On the international level of the continuing arrests in Tunisia, which have included politicians, businesspeople and activists, the US condemned the increasing arrest of dissidents and expressed concern about reports of the initiation of judicial proceedings against activists on account of their communications with officials at the US Embassy in Tunisia.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price disclosed to reporters: “We are concerned about reports that judicial proceedings have been initiated against individuals in Tunisia, apparently because of their meetings or conversations with employees of the US Embassy. This, as I have already said, is part of an escalation in the arrests of people perceived to be critical of the Tunisian government.”

Price declined to identify the people involved or detail the circumstances surrounding those contacts, which he justified by saying: “All our embassies and diplomats around the world meet with different personalities in all countries.”

The Tunisian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on foreign embassies “not to interfere in their internal affairs” after talking about meetings between Tunisian opponents and Western diplomats.

Since the beginning of February, the Tunisian authorities have arrested more than twenty people as part of a campaign denounced by the opposition, accusing President Saied of seeking to silence people to further monopolise power.

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