Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

UN expresses ‘serious concern’ over human rights violations in Tunisia, demanding that Ennahdha official be released or charged.

The United Nations has expressed concern over human rights abuses in Tunisia and demanded that a former justice minister held in a fight against the Ennahdha party be charged or released.

Noureddine Bhiri, a Member of Parliament and Deputy Chairman of Ennahdha, was bundled into a car by civilian police officers on December 31 and detained for several hours in unknown locations.

He was later charged with possible “terrorism” offenses.

The 63-year-old, who suffers from several pre-existing health conditions, including diabetes and hypertension, was transferred to hospital on January 2 after being treated for a strike.

He remains in hospital, where he is under surveillance.

Fathi Baldi, a former Interior Ministry official, was also arrested on December 31 in similar circumstances. His whereabouts were kept secret for several days.

Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, said on Tuesday that the shadowy circumstances of the men’s detention had deepened the UN’s “already serious concern about the deteriorating human rights situation” in Tunisia.

She said the arrests “echo practices that have not been seen since the [former President Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali era ”and urged Tunisian authorities to either release or charge the two immediately.

Concern over ‘choking on disagreement’

Tunisia was the only democracy to emerge from the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, in which Ben Ali was ousted, along with a handful of other Arab leaders.

Ennahdha played a central role in the post-Ben Ali transition to a power grab by President Kais Saied in July last year.

The party called for Bhiri’s release and condemned his detention as an illegal attempt to silence political opposition in the country.

On July 25 last year, Saied vowed to eradicate corruption and sacked the Ennahdha-backed government, suspended parliament – in which the party is the largest bloc – and later took steps to govern by decree.

His opponents and groups in civil society have expressed fears of a move back to the authoritarianism of Ben Ali’s rule.

Throssell said the UN was “concerned about the suppression of discord in Tunisia, including through the improper use of counter-terrorism legislation, and the increasing use of military courts to try civilians”.

But many Tunisians, tired of a system considered corrupt and inefficient, welcomed Saied’s actions.

Amid international outcry, Tunisia’s press syndicate on Tuesday said state television had ban all political parties enter some of its buildings or participate in talk shows. The apparent ban has apparently been in force since Saied took over most of the power in July.

The envoys of seven Western countries plus the European Union last month urged Tunisia to respect “fundamental freedoms” and set a timeline for a return to democratic institutions.

Saied reiterated that he respects all freedoms and rights and will not become a dictator.

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