Tunisia police arrest prominent figures as crackdown continues

The arrests come amid a continuing crackdown on critics of President Kais Saied.

Tunisian police
Tunisia police stand guard at a checkpoint outside the interior ministry during a demonstration against the president in Tunis [File: Fethi Belaid/AFP]

Tunisian police arrested two prominent opposition leaders and surrounded the house of another critic of President Kais Saied, according to their relatives and lawyers.

Chaima Aissa, leader of the National Salvation Front, and opposition figure Issam Chebbi were arrested by police on Wednesday.

Authorities also surrounded the house of Jawher Ben Mbarek, another significant critic of the president, amid a crackdown on those critical of the president.

Aissa has led protests against Saied and was charged under a cybercrime law after criticising the president in a radio interview.

Chebbi, head of the Republican Party, was arrested near a shopping centre while he was out with his wife, his family and lawyers said. Police later searched his home.

Officers also surrounded the house of Ben Mbarek to arrest him but he was not there, his sister and lawyers said.

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‘Legal and necessary’

More than a dozen people, including politicians, judges and media figures have been arrested during the past two weeks after they voiced opposition to Saied or sought to mobilise protests against him.

They include a prominent business leader with close ties across the political spectrum, a former finance minister, another former senior Ennahdha official, two judges and a former diplomat. Lawyers said they were arrested on suspicion of assaulting state security.

In July 2021, Saied shut down parliament, dismissed the government and moved to rule by decree before rewriting the constitution – moves his critics called a coup that pulled apart the democracy built after a 2011 revolution.

Saied has denied a coup saying his moves were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos. State television has largely stopped broadcasting interviews with critics of the president.

Last year, he also took ultimate authority over the judiciary.

The police and the interior ministry declined to comment on the arrests, but lawyers said some of those detained were accused of conspiring against state security.

Saied has also publicly said some of those arrested were responsible for shortages of food and fuel that economists have blamed on a crisis in public finances.

Issam Chebbi is the brother of Nejib Chebbi, leader of the National Salvation Front coalition of opposition groups that has organised protests against Saied.

Ben Mbarek is also a prominent figure in the National Salvation Front and urged the removal of Saied through street protests.

Source: Reuters