Detained Tunisian politician hospitalised ‘in critical condition’

Bhiri is being ‘deprived of his medication’ and ‘his life is threatened’, Ennahdha officials say.

Tunisian justice minister Noureddine Bhiri speaks to journalists.
Noureddine Bhiri was arrested in Tunis on December 31 [Fethi Belaid/AFP]

Tunisian politician Noureddine Bhiri has been rushed to hospital in “critical condition” following his arrest by plainclothes officers in Tunis on Friday, activists and lawmakers said.

Bhiri “is in a critical condition” and “in intensive care” at a hospital in the northern town of Bizerte, lawyer and politician Samir Dilou told the AFP news agency on Sunday.

“Kais Saied [Tunisia’s president] bears full responsibility for the life of Mr Bhiri,” the anti-Saied group known as Citizens Against the Coup wrote on Twitter, adding that Bhiri “faces death” and was “rushed to the hospital in a very serious condition”.

On Saturday, Tunisia’s independent national body for the prevention of torture (INPT) said authorities had provided no information on Bhiri or on Fathi Baldi, a former interior ministry official who was also taken in for questioning on Friday.

On Monday, the ministry announced that Bhiri was suspected of “terrorism”.

“There were fears of acts of terrorism targeting the country’s security and we had to act,” Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine said.

President Saied has been accused of staging a coup in July last year when he sacked the Ennahdha-supported government and suspended parliament.

He later took steps to rule by decree, and in early December vowed to press on with reforms to the political system.

Ennahdha chief Rached Ghannouchi, who is also the speaker of the suspended parliament, released a letter addressed to Tunisia’s president demanding urgent information concerning Bhiri’s condition, and his release.

Following “the refusal to disclose where he is being held… we stress that it is your responsibility to reveal his current condition”, Ghannouchi wrote in the letter published on the Ennahdha website on Sunday.

He called on Saied “to enable a medical and human rights team to visit him… and we ask you to urgently release him”.

Mondher Lounissi, a doctor and member of Ennahdha’s executive bureau, said in a statement that Bhiri suffers from several chronic illnesses, including diabetes and hypertension.

He has been “deprived of his medication” and “his life is threatened”, Lounissi told a news conference, adding that Bhiri usually takes 16 pills a day.

Lounissi urged the Red Crescent and international organisations to intervene on Bhiri’s behalf, calling his situation “inhuman”.

Another senior Ennahdha member, Said Ferjani, told AFP that seeing “a former cabinet minister treated this way… is dangerous for Tunisia and the region”.

MP Saida Ounissi tweeted earlier that Bhiri had been kept in a “secret location” since his arrest, and that no charges had been levelled against him.

Since Saied’s intervention, several senior politicians and business leaders have been detained or prosecuted, many of them on charges of corruption or defamation.

Rights groups have criticised some of those arrests and the use of military courts to hear cases.

Saied has promised to uphold the rights and freedoms won in Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, which ushered in democracy and triggered the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies