Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

Ennahdha’s deputy president Bhiri was arrested by civilian officials in the capital on Friday.

Appeals lodged for word on the whereabouts of detained Tunisian politician Noureddine Bhiri, a leader of the Ennahdha party, the largest in the North African country’s suspended parliament.

Officers in civilian clothes arrested Bhiri, a former justice minister and deputy president of Ennahdha, in the capital Tunis on Friday.

Tunisia’s independent national body for the prevention of torture (INPT) said authorities had not provided any information about Bhiri or about Fathi Baldi, a former Interior Ministry official who was also taken in for questioning on Friday.

INPT president Fathi al-Jarray said there was “no response” from the Interior Ministry to his requests for information on the two men.

Ennahdha played a central role in the country’s politics until President Kais Saied took power in July.

Tunisia was the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings 10 years ago, but groups in civil society and Saied’s opponents have expressed fears of a move back to authoritarianism a decade after the revolution that powered Zine. El Abidine overthrew Ben Ali.

Lawyer and INPT official Lotfi Ezzedine told the AFP news agency that some individuals had been placed under house arrest over the summer, but “it is even worse because we do not even know where they are being held”.

Bhiri and Baldi were “not in an official detention facility, their homes or at a police station”, he said, claiming that the two’s location was “kept secret”.

On July 25 last year, Saied fired the Ennahdha-backed government and suspended parliament, posing as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution.

He later took steps to govern by decree, and in early December he promised to continue with reforms to the political system. Critics have condemned his move as a coup.

The president defended his takeover as the only way to end government paralysis after years of political strife and economic stagnation.

He promised to uphold rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution.

‘Dangerous precedent’

Ennahdha said on Friday that the authorities were questioning Bhiri and condemning “a kidnapping and dangerous precedent indicating the country’s entry into a tunnel to dictatorship”.

Ezzedine of the INPT said the Interior Ministry had ordered the two under preventive detention without legal action because they allegedly posed “a danger to public order”.

They could not communicate with their families or lawyers or receive visits, he said, branding their detention as “unconstitutional.”

Ennahdha party lawmaker Habib Khedher said Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine on Saturday refused to meet with representatives of Bhiri’s defense committee.

He said Bhiri’s wife, Saida Akremi, and the head of the national order of lawyers had requested a meeting to review the health of Bhiri, who suffers from various chronic diseases.

Separately, former President Moncef Marzouki accused the Tunisian authorities on Saturday of violently assaulting his brother.

A Tunisian court sentenced Marzouki, a critic of President Said’s coup, to four years in prison in late December for “assaulting” state security.

Marzouki dismissed the ruling as illegal and told Al Jazeera at the time that it was “issued by an illegal president who overturned the constitution”.

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