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Jailed Tunisia opposition chief begins hunger strike

The head of Tunisia's Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, Rached Ghannouchi, arrives at a police station in Tunis on February 21, 2023 in response to a summons
The head of Tunisia's Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, Rached Ghannouchi, arrives at a police station in Tunis on February 21, 2023 in response to a summons - Copyright AFP/File FETHI BELAID
The head of Tunisia's Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, Rached Ghannouchi, arrives at a police station in Tunis on February 21, 2023 in response to a summons - Copyright AFP/File FETHI BELAID

The jailed leader of Tunisian opposition party Ennahdha, Rached Ghannouchi, 82, began a hunger strike on Friday to protest his detention and express support for other “political prisoners”, his party said.

A court in the North African country sentenced Ghannouchi to one year in prison on terrorism-related charges in May following his arrest the month before, in what his party condemned as an “unjust political verdict.”

He is the most prominent of roughly two dozen opponents of President Kais Saied arrested since February, including former ministers and business figures.

Ghannouchi “decided to begin a three-day hunger strike to denounce the arbitrary and unfounded prosecution of the opposition”, said Imed Khemiri, spokesman for the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party.

“It is also in support of the hunger strike started by Jawhar Ben Mbarek,” he said, referring to the left-wing opposition figure and leading member of the National Salvation Front (FSN) opposition alliance.

Ben Mbarek, a critic of Saied who has been under arrest since February 24, has been on a hunger strike for four days to denounce his “unjust” detention, according to his sister, the lawyer Dalila Masaddek.

“Faced with the government’s determination to dismiss opponents through baseless legal cases, the only option left to political prisoners is to go on hunger strike,” said Khemiri.

Ghannouchi took the action “to defend the demand for the release of all political prisoners and to put an end to this injustice against them”, Ennahdha said in a statement.

The former speaker of parliament was arrested in April after warning that eradicating different viewpoints such as the left or political Islam may lead to a “civil war”.

Ennahdha was the largest party in the Tunisian parliament until Saied dissolved the legislature in July 2021 as part of a power grab.

Saied has since ruled by decree in the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the region more than a decade ago.

In March, the European Parliament in a non-binding resolution condemned Tunisia’s “authoritarian drift” under Saied’s leadership.

AFP
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