A judge has ordered Rached Ghannouchi, Tunisia’s main opposition leader, jailed ahead of his trial on charges of plotting against state security, days after he was arrested at his home in Tunis.
Ghannouchi’s lawyer said on Thursday that the head of the Ennahda party was ordered detained after eight hours of investigation. “It was a ready decision to imprison Ghannouchi only because of Ghannouchi’s expression of his opinion,” lawyer Monia Bouali told the Reuters news agency.
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“I have a vision for the future. … Free Tunisia,” read a post on Ghannouchi’s official Facebook page after the judge’s decision.
Ennahda, Tunisia’s largest political party, condemned the judge’s ‘unjust decision’.
“This decision is political in nature, and its purpose is to cover up the failure of the coup government to improve the social, economic and living conditions of the citizens and its inability to address the financial crisis,” the party said in a statement released on its Facebook account.
After a hearing that started at 8 in the evening and ended at 6 in the morning, the investigating judge issued a verdict to charge Mr Ghannouchi with conspiracy against state security, whose punishment could reach the death penalty, and ordered him to be imprisoned pending trial.
— Ennahdha Party (@EnnahdhaParty) April 20, 2023
The 81-year-old was arrested on Monday during a growing crackdown on opponents of President Kais Saied, who sacked the democratically elected government in 2021, dissolved the parliament and started ruling by degree. A Ministry of the Interior official said Ghannouchi had been arrested after “inciting statements”.
Ghannouchi said in an opposition meeting last week that “Tunisia without Ennahda, without political Islam, without the left or any other component is a project for civil war.”
On Tuesday, Tunisian police raided Ennahda’s main offices and closed the headquarters of the Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition.
The Ennahda party has dominated politics in the North African nation since the 2011 Jasmine Revolution, which triggered Arab Spring protests across the region and toppled the longtime leader, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Saied’s decisions have drawn international criticism. In a statement on Wednesday, United States Department of State spokesperson Vedant Patel said Ghannouchi’s arrest and the closure of Ennahdha’s headquarters “are fundamentally at odds with the principles Tunisians adopted in a constitution”.
He said the arrests “represent a troubling escalation by the Tunisian government against perceived opponents”.
Ghannouchi – who was in exile in the 1990s and returned during the 2011 revolution, which had brought democracy to Tunisia – said those who “celebrated [Saied’s] coup are extremists and terrorists”.
The 81-year-old opposition leader had already appeared before the counterterrorism court in Tunis in February after allegedly referring to police as “tyrants.” Before that, he had to address accusations of money laundering and judges’ questions over allegations that Ennahda had helped Tunisian fighters reach Syria.