Tunisian police have summoned the head of the biggest opposition party for questioning after a string of arrests targeting critics of President Kais Saied have raised concerns over free speech and political rights.
Rached Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahdha party and speaker of an elected parliament that Saied formally dissolved last year, has been asked to present himself at a Tunis police station on Tuesday, Ennahdha spokesperson Zayneb Brahmi said.
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Police have not revealed the purpose of the investigation, Reuters quoted Brahmi as saying at a news briefing. There was no immediate comment by the Ministry of the Interior.
Ghannouchi was questioned several times last year on suspicion of illicit funding for Ennahdha and helping send Tunisian fighters to Syria to support ISIL (ISIS) fighters. The party has denied the accusations against Ghannouchi, and judges decided not to hold him in detention pending investigation.
Ennahdha, the largest party in the parliament before its dissolution, has played a leading role in successive coalition governments since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, which brought about democratic rule.
After winning the 2019 presidential election, Saied seized most powers in 2021, shutting down parliament and moving to rule by decree before rewriting the constitution. His critics, including Ennahdha, have denounced his actions as an anti-democratic coup.
The president says his actions are legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos and has described his foes as traitors, blaming them for the country’s economic and political woes.
This month, police arrested several major figures critical of Saied. The coordinated arrests have raised fears of a wider crackdown on dissent and prompted the UN Human Rights Office to call for the detainees’ immediate release.
Abdelhamid Jelassi, a former politician from Ennahdha, was detained on the night of February 11. Jelassi’s wife, Mounia Brahim, told Al Jazeera the men showed neither police IDs nor a warrant, even when asked for them.
That same night, Khayam al-Turki, a member of the centre-left Ettakatol (Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties) party, was taken from his house after midnight and is currently detained under terrorism laws from 2015.
On February 13, police raided the home of Noureddine Bhiri, a senior Ennahdha official, as well as that of political activist and lawyer Lazhar Akremi.
The charges against those detained have not been made public, but Saied said last week that some of those arrested were “criminals who were plotting against state security”.
Meanwhile, thousands of union members held protests across the country on Saturday and Sunday to denounce worsening economic woes and the arrest of a top union official, Anis Kaabi.
Kaabi was arrested on January 31 after a strike by toll barrier workers, in what the union has described as “a blow to union work and a violation of union rights”.
The powerful UGTT labour union has become increasingly vocal in opposing Saied and said on Monday that it would bring forward a protest in Tunis by one week to March 4.