Tunisian police detain opposition leader, raid Ennahda party HQ

Rached Ghannouchi has emerged as one of the biggest critics of President Kais Saied since the leader shut down parliament.

A portrait of Rached Ghannouchi, of the Ennahda party taken in his office.
Ennahda's Rached Ghannouchi has been detained for questioning a number of times in the past [File: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

Tunisian police have detained opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi and raided the headquarters of his Ennahda party, party officials said.

Police raided Ghannouchi’s house on Monday evening, carrying out a search before taking him to what party officials called an “unknown destination”. Hours later, they began a raid on Ennahda’s headquarters.

Tunisian authorities have detained a number of high-profile critics of President Kais Saied. The former law professor, elected in 2019 amid public anger against the political class, in 2021 sacked the government and suspended parliament before moving to rule by decree and eventually taking control of the judiciary.

A senior police official told the Reuters news agency Ghannouchi had been brought in for questioning and his house searched on the orders of the public prosecutor investigating “inciting statements”. A decision on the next steps was with the prosecutor, the official added.

Ghannouchi has already faced repeated rounds of judicial questioning over the past year on charges relating to Ennahda’s finances and allegations it enabled Tunisians to leave the North African country and join ISIL (ISIS) as well as other armed groups after longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was removed from power in 2011.

Ennahda’s vice president Ali Laarayedh, a former prime minister, was detained in relation to similar accusations in December.

Ghannouchi and the party deny the charges.

The 81-year-old  has been detained for questioning in the past and released, but his supporters described Monday’s action as a more serious step.

His lawyer, Nejib Chebbi, told The Associated Press news agency that Ghannouchi had been taken to the El Aouina prison in the east of the capital.

Ennahdha called for his release, saying in a statement that it it “condemns this very dangerous development.”

Tunisia’s official TAP news agency reported that he had been detained on a warrant by counterterrorism prosecutors as part of an investigation into recent “provocative” comments. It did not elaborate.

Ghannouchi was a political prisoner in the 1980s and went into exile in the 1990s before returning during Tunisia’s democratic revolution.

Under his leadership, Ennahda moved towards the political centre, joining successive governing coalitions with secular parties.

He became parliament speaker after the 2019 election.

Ghannouchi has emerged as Saied’s biggest critic since the president seized broad powers, saying it was necessary to save Tunisia from years of crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies