Tunisian Islamist leader arrested in crackdown on opposition

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian authorities arrested the leader of the Ennahda opposition Islamist movement in a crackdown on rival politicians and critics of the North African country’s increasingly authoritarian president Kais Saied, lawyers said Tuesday.

Noureddine Bhiri, a senior Ennahda leader, was taken into custody by armed police at his home in the capital, Tunis, late Monday on suspicion of being part of a “conspiracy against the country’s security,” the movement’s lawyer, Ines Harrathi, said in a Facebook post.

Lazhar Akremi, a lawyer and critic of Saied, and Noureddine Bouttar, the director general of an independent radio station, Mosaïque, were also arrested by the security forces in the early hours of Tuesday, according to Bouttar’s lawyer, Dalila Msaddek.

Authorities have not released any information on the wave of arrests that started over the weekend.

The crackdown — targeting Tunisian opposition figures, the president’s critics and opponents in the media, judiciary and business community — comes after a disastrous parliamentary election last month in which only 11% of the voters cast their ballots. The vote was organized by Saied, who is determined to reshape the country’s political system and replace a legislature that he had dissolved in 2021.

Another prominent member of Ennahda, Andelhamid Jelassi was arrested on Saturday, according to the movement’s lawyer, along with Khayam Turki, a former leader of the social-democratic Ettakatol party. Turki’s lawyers said he was taken into custody after a meeting at his home to rally the opposition against Saied and prevent him from strengthening his grip on power.

On the eve of the arrests Friday, Saied called on Justice Minister Leila Jaffel to swiftly clear the backlog of legal cases that the president claims “have been dragging on for years.” Those include the prosecution of “traitors,” who Saied said are sowing discontent and inciting anger in the country, leading to chaos and causing food and fuel shortages.

Ennahda condemned the arrests and accused Saied’s government of “abducting and prosecuting” the president’s opponents to “distract from the economic and political crisis,” according to a statement the movement issued late Monday. It called for an immediate release of all who have been held in an “illegal detention.”

Tunisia is going through a major economic crisis, with soaring inflation and unemployment, particularly among the country’s youth. Critics of Saied’s leadership and political elites accuse them of bringing the country’s economy to the brink of bankruptcy.

Ennahda’s vice president and former Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Laraydeh has been detained since December. The movement says his arrest is part of Saied’s campaign to to marginalize the popular Islamists party. ,

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