Who are some of the key opposition figures targeted in Tunisia?

Thirty opposition figures deemed critical of President Kais Saied have been arrested in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch.

Protesters chant behind a flag at a demonstration
Supporters of the Tunisian General Labour Union protest against President Kais Saied, accusing him of trying to stifle basic freedoms, including union rights, in Tunis on March 4, 2023 [Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

Tunisia is accused of using the “judiciary as a tool of repression” as its crackdown against the opposition draws sharp criticism from human rights organisations.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday condemned the arrests of Ennahdha members, warning that the government was “moving to neutralize the country’s largest political party”.

Seventeen current or former Ennahdha members have been arrested since December, bringing the total number of arrests of opposition figures considered critical of President Kais Saied to 30, HRW said.

Saied, who was backed by Ennahdha when he became president in 2019, dissolved the democratically elected parliament in July 2021 and has since seized more powers, changing the country’s constitution in the process. His opponents decry his moves as “a coup”.

The families of the political detainees have campaigned on their behalf, most recently calling on the European Union to sanction several government officials.

Amnesty International also condemned the growing repression in Tunisia this week, adding that four people had been added to at least 17 dissidents being investigated “on unfounded accusations of ‘conspiracy'”. Twelve people have been arrested in the investigation, according to Amnesty.

Those targeted include opposition party members, political activists and lawyers, Amnesty said.

“The Tunisian authorities have already done enough damage to the right to freedom of expression and the rule of law by arbitrarily detaining dissidents on unfounded accusations,” Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“They should urgently close this investigation, immediately release all those who have been detained in relation to it and end their instrumentalization of the judiciary as a tool of repression,” she said.

As Saeid’s authoritarian shift deepens, here’s a list of some prominent opposition figures targeted in recent months and the charges they face:

Rached Ghannouchi

  • Head of the Ennahdha party
  • Arrested on April 17 for “inciting statements”, authorities said, ostensibly in a video in which he made comments warning of the potential for civil war if Tunisia’s various political currents, including political Islam and leftists, were excluded from Tunisia’s political fabric
  • Charged with conspiracy against state security
  • Kept in prison in pre-trial detention
  • Has been questioned in relation to 19 investigations in the past 18 months, according to HRW

Ali Laarayedh

  • Vice president of Ennahdha and former prime minister
  • Faces prosecution for not adequately combating hardline groups and violence when in office from 2011 to 2014, according to HRW
  • Held since December without being taken before a judge

Nourredine Bhiri

  • A deputy head of the Ennahdha party and former justice minister
  • Arrested on February 13 for trying to “change the nature of the state”, his lawyer Amine Bouker told HRW
  • The charge stems from a Facebook post urging Tunisians to demonstrate against Saied on January 14, the anniversary of the day former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown. His lawyers said he did not write the post, according to HRW.

Said Ferjani

  • An Ennahdha leader who was in parliament before it was dissolved by Saied
  • Arrested on February 27 in an investigation of the digital content production company Instalingo, according to HRW
  • The state prosecutor has accused Instalingo of inciting violence and slandering Saied, HRW said.
  • His family and lawyer have told HRW that he is not affiliated with the company.

Mohamed Mzoughi

  • Ennahdha’s head of public relations
  • Arrested on March 9 on charges that include conspiracy against state security and “terrorism”-related charges for an alleged role in managing social media pages critical of Saied’s rule, according to HRW

Mohamed Saleh Bouallagui

  • Ennahdha’s general secretary
  • Arrested on March 10 on charges that include conspiracy against state security and “terrorism”-related charges for an alleged role in managing social media pages critical of Saied’s rule, the same charges as Mzoughi, according to HRW

Mohamed Ben Salem

  • A former Ennahdha leader and former minister of agriculture
  • Arrested on March 3 and accused of “forming an organization aiming to prepare and commit the crime of illegally leaving the Tunisian territory” and “holding sums of money in foreign currency”, according to HRW
  • Has lost his ability to walk and has had two strokes since his arrest, his family and lawyer told HRW

Ayachi Hammami

  • A lawyer who has represented opposition leaders being investigated in the case targeting 17 people for conspiracy, according to Amnesty
  • Is now among the accused in that case
  • Is also being investigated under a cybercrime law for publicly criticising authorities, according to Amnesty

Bochra Belhaj Hamida

  • A feminist lawyer and co-founder and former president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women
  • Former politician in the Assembly of the People’s Representatives, Tunisia’s legislative branch of government
  • Among the 17 accused in the criminal conspiracy investigation

Nejib Chebbi

  • Leader of Tunisia’s National Salvation Front, an opposition alliance co-founded by Ennahdha
  • Has organised regular protests against Saied for months
  • Among the 17 accused in the criminal conspiracy investigation
  • Also under investigation since January alongside other activists accused of assaulting public security officers and insulting the president
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies