Tunisia: Calls mount for release of detained Ennahdha official

Ennahdha’s Deputy President Bhiri was arrested by plainclothes officers in the capital on Friday.

Noureddine Bhiri attends a parliament session in Tunis.
Tunisia's independent national body for the prevention of torture (INPT) said in a statement that authorities had provided no information on Bhiri [File: Fethi Belaid/AFP]

Appeals have mounted for word on the whereabouts of detained Tunisian politician Noureddine Bhiri, a leader of the Ennahdha party, the largest in the North African country’s suspended parliament.

Plainclothes officers arrested Bhiri, a former justice minister and deputy president of Ennahdha, in the capital Tunis on Friday.

Tunisia’s independent national body for the prevention of torture (INPT) said authorities provided no information on Bhiri nor on Fathi Baldi, a former interior ministry official who was also taken in for questioning on Friday.

INPT president, Fathi al-Jarray, said there had been “no response” from the interior ministry to its requests for information about the two men.

Ennahdha had played a central role in the country’s politics until President Kais Saied seized power in July.

Tunisia was the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring revolts 10 years ago, but civil society groups and Saied’s opponents have expressed fear of a slide back to authoritarianism a decade after the revolution that toppled longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Lawyer and INPT official Lotfi Ezzedine told the AFP news agency that some individuals had been placed under house arrest over the summer, but “this is even worse because we don’t even know where they are detained”.

Bhiri and Baldi were “not in an official detention facility, their homes or at a police station”, he said, charging that the pair’s location was being “kept secret”.

On July 25 last year, Saied sacked the Ennahdha-supported government and suspended parliament, presenting himself as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution.

He later took steps to rule by decree, and, in early December, promised to press on with reforms to the political system. Critics denounced his move as a coup.

The president has defended his takeover as the only way to end governmental paralysis after years of political squabbling and economic stagnation.

He has promised to uphold rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution.

‘Dangerous precedent’

On Friday, Ennahdha said authorities were questioning Bhiri and denounced “a kidnapping and dangerous precedent marking the country’s entry into a tunnel to dictatorship”.

INPT’s Ezzedine said the interior ministry had ordered the pair under preventive detention without legal proceedings because they allegedly presented “a danger to public order”.

They have been unable to communicate with their families or lawyers or receive visits, he said, branding their detention “unconstitutional”.

Ennahdha party legislator Habib Khedher said Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine had refused on Saturday to meet with representatives of Bhiri’s defence committee.

He said Bhiri’s wife Saida Akremi and the head of the national order of lawyers had requested a meeting to check on the health of Bhiri, who suffers from several chronic illnesses.

Separately, former President Moncef Marzouki accused Tunisian authorities on Saturday of violently assaulting his brother.

A Tunisian court had, in late December, sentenced Marzouki, a critic of President Said’s power grab, in absentia to four years in prison for “assaulting” the security of the state.

Marzouki rejected the ruling as illegal, telling Al Jazeera at the time that it was “issued by an illegitimate president who overturned the constitution”.

Source: News Agencies