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Tunisia opposition presidential candidate arrested

July 4, 2024 at 3:38 pm

Tunisian police in Tunis, Tunisia. [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

The head of a Tunisian opposition party, Lotfi Mraihi, has been arrested by police on suspicion of money laundering, Reuters has reported. He has already announced his intention to run in the country’s presidential election set for October.

Mraihi is the leader of the Republican Union Party, and one of the most prominent critics of President Kais Saied. He was arrested late on Wednesday, said politicians and local media. A spokesman for Tunis Court said earlier this week that Mraihi faces charges of money laundering and opening bank accounts abroad without a licence from the Tunisian Central Bank.

The politician’s arrest comes as opposition parties, many of whose leaders are in prison, accused Saied’s government of exerting pressure on the judiciary to track down the president’s rivals in the 2024 election and pave the way for him to win a second term.

Elected president in 2019, Saied has not officially announced his candidacy for the October election. However, he is widely expected to seek a second term. He said last year that he will not hand power over to those he called “non-patriots”. It is supposed that he will define exactly who that means; presumably his most credible opponents.

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Abir Moussi, the leader of the Free Constitutional Party and a prominent candidate, has been in prison since last year on charges of harming public security. Moussi’s party says that she was imprisoned in an effort to remove her from the election race and avoid Saied having to face a strong candidate in an election. The authorities deny this.

Other candidates including Safi Saeed, Nizar Chaari and Abd Ellatif Mekki are facing prosecution for alleged crimes such as fraud and money laundering. Mondher Znaidi, a prominent potential candidate who is living in France, is also facing prosecution on suspicion of financial corruption.

The opposition says fair and credible elections cannot be held unless imprisoned politicians are released and the media is allowed to do its job without pressure from the government.

Saied seized almost all powers in 2021, dissolved parliament and began ruling by decree in a move that the opposition described as a coup. The president said that his steps were legal and necessary to end years of rampant corruption among the political elite.

Prominent opponents of the president have been detained since last year on charges of conspiring against state security, in a crackdown that included businessmen and media figures, as well as politicians.

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