International support for Tunisia’s jailed opposition leader Ghannouchi | Politics News

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International support for Tunisia’s jailed opposition leader Ghannouchi | Politics News

Newly formed International Committee for Solidarity with Rached Ghannouchi says the Ennahdha party leader is ‘oldest prisoner of conscience in the Arab world’.

Marking the first anniversary of the arrest of Tunisia’s prominent opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi, an international committee has formed to raise awareness of the imprisonment of the 82-year-old, now the “oldest prisoner of conscience in the Arab world”.

The International Committee for Solidarity with Rached Ghannouchi said the group has been formed by “statesmen and women and intellectuals from around the world” who are dedicated to the release of the imprisoned Ennahdha party leader and former speaker of Tunisia’s parliament.

“Rached Ghannouchi was unjustly detained at his home on the night of April 17, 2023, corresponding to the twenty-seventh night of Ramadan, without any regard to the sanctity of his home, age, or status, during the holiest month in the Islamic calendar,” the committee said in a statement.

“His alleged crime? A speech at a public event held by the opposition National Salvation Front where he criticized the dissolution of the elected parliament, suspension of democratic institutions and illegitimate suspension of the constitution since July 25, 2021,” the committee said.

A vocal critic of Tunisia’s increasingly powerful President Kais Saied, Ghannouchi became the highest-profile figure to be arrested in the continuing consolidation of power by Saied who was elected in 2019 and has overseen a wave of repression and legal reforms that have expanded his rule as president.

In February, a Tunisian court sentenced Ghannouchi to three years in prison over accusations that his party had received foreign funding, the official Tunis Afrique Presse news agency reported.

Human Rights Watch has described Saied as carrying out a “power grab”, jailing critics and political opponents, and undermining the independence of the country’s judiciary.

Critics say such developments risk returning Tunisia to the authoritarian state that was swept aside in the 2011 toppling of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – a key moment in what would become known as the start of the “Arab Spring”.

Saied has defended his actions, saying his policies as focused on rooting out corruption and fighting government incompetence.

Ghannouchi’s arrest and imprisonment followed years of “regime persecution of the political opposition”, including political and media campaigns aimed at “demonising and defaming” the opposition’s leader and his family, the international committee also said.

Tunisian authorities, the committee added, have systematically dismantled “democratic institutions painstakingly built over a decade of democratic transition”.

“In their place, a new system of authoritarian one-man rule has been put in place through an array of unconstitutional executive decrees,” the committee said.

Until his arrest, Ghannouchi had played “an essential role in consolidating the foundations of an emerging democratic system … reducing political and ideological polarization, and enacting a progressive, pluralistic constitution,” it added.

The committee said it would focus its work on calling for Ghannouchi’s release, and that of all political prisoners, and highlighting his “intellectual and political contributions as a pioneer of the compatibility of democracy and Islamic moderation in Tunisia and the world”.

Additionally, the committee wants to see an end to the use of Tunisia’s judiciary, media and executive institutions to target Tunisia’s political opposition, and is calling on governments around the world and international civil society groups to demand that Tunisian authorities free “all prisoners of conscience” and respect their “obligations under international law”.