Tunisia opposition to hold new protest over arrests

Police in Tunisia have arrested Jaouhar Ben Mbarek and Ghazi Chaouachi, prominent critics of Kais Saied, his sister said, taking most of the main leaders of the National Salvation Front (NSFT) opposition move­ment into custody.

Police had surrounded Ben Mbarek’s and Mr Chaouachi homes on Wednesday and briefly detained, who are also well-known dissidents, on Thursday, according to Mr Mbarek’s sister, Dalila Msaddek, who is a lawyer.

“Jaouhar was arrested late last night (Thursday) and we haven’t seen the charges against him,” Msaddek said on Friday, the AFP news agency reported.

Ben Mbarek is also the leader of a movement called Citizens Against the Coup.

The organisation, as well as the NSFT, were formed in protest after President Saied suspended Parliament and sacked the govern­ment in July 2021, later moving to seize control of the judiciary and revamp the country’s post-revolu­tion political system to concentrate power in his office.

The continuing arrests have shocked the country and drawn international condemnation while raising fears over a crackdown on dissent. They include those with ties to the opposition, critics of the president, businessmen, and the head of a leading radio station, lawyers and a former diplomat.

Salsabil Chellali, the Tunisia director of the international monitoring group, Human Rights Watch, said President Saied was going after his critics “with utter abandon”.

“The message in these arrests is that if you dare to speak out, the president can have you arrested and publicly denounce you while his henchmen try to build up a file against you based on remarks you made or who you met,” she said in a statement.

The NSFT has slammed the string of “repressive” arrest after police in the North African country – the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings more than a decade ago – detained 10 public figures, including the director of the country’s most popular private radio station, which has been critical of the president.

Ben Mbarek, a constitutional law expert like President Saied, had supported the president in his successful 2019 election bid, but has since become one of his leading critics. —AFP

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