TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Supporters of a jailed presidential candidate in Tunisia claimed Wednesday that a court’s refusal to release him was a political decision and said the campaign would continue despite his imprisonment on alleged money laundering and tax evasion charges.
Polls show the jailed candidate, Nabil Karoui, among the favorites to top the Sept. 15 first round of the election of 26 candidates. Karoui’s campaign team said it is “convinced its candidate is the first political prisoner” of post-revolutionary Tunisia.
Karoui, the co-owner of private TV station Nessma TV, was jailed Aug. 23 pending an investigation into the money laundering and tax evasion charges.
On Tuesday, a Tunis court decided it was “incompetent” to rule on whether to free Karoui, while Tunisia’s electoral commission says he can remain a candidate as long as he hasn’t been convicted.
The early election was called after the death last month of Tunisia’s first democratically elected president, Beji Caid Essebsi, following the 2011 revolution that forced autocratic leader Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali into exile.
“What is happening today is nothing other than an abuse of power and the use of state institutions to eliminate political adversaries,” Karoui’s campaign team said in a statement. It did not say who might be behind such alleged maneuvering.
Iyadh Elloumi, one of Karoui’s spokesmen, said the refusal to free Karoui “is the only black spot on the democratic transition.” He vowed that the campaign would continue “as if Karoui was with us.”
Karoui founded the centrist Heart of Tunisia party, its mission to fight poverty, joblessness and eradicating terrorism. His wife Salwa campaigned in her husband’s place Tuesday in Gafsa, a poor mining region in the southwest.
Other leading candidates include Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and the defense minister, Abdelkrim Zbidi, who stepped down from his post to run.
The moderate Islamist party Ennahdha, which has the most parliamentary seats, is making its first attempt for the presidency with its candidate Abdelafattah Mourou. Two women are hoping to become the first female president in a country long known for greater women’s rights than most Arab countries.
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