Tunisian police crack down on dissidents

Political unrest in Tunisia leads to dozens of arrests among protestors

By Griffin Brammer, Newswire Live Show Manager

Tunisian police have arrested more than a dozen political dissidents against President Kais Saied since last Friday.

The arrests consist of political figures, union officials and businessmen who have been vocal about their criticism of the president. Saied has insisted that those arrested should be seen as terrorists and may even be to blame for recent shortages of food and petrol within the nation.

“(Their corruption is) a cancer in the body of the state, which needs to be destroyed with radiotherapy or chemotherapy,” Saied said.

Jaouhar Ben M’barek is the most recent detainee, after his house was surrounded by Tunisian police for days. Ben M’barek, an ex-government advisor and current head of the Citizens Against the Coup protest movement, was arrested last Friday.

Ben M’barek is also a prominent member of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a coalition opposing the independently-aligned president. Other members of NSF — senior member Chaima Aissa and head of the republican party Issam Chebbi — were arrested earlier last week.

“Jaouhar was arrested late last night, and we haven’t seen the charges against him,” Ben M’barek’s sister, Dalila Msaddek, said.

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Aissa was charged under cybercrime law for her criticism of president Saied in a radio interview. She is not detained but banned from traveling outside of Tunisia. Despite her arrest, Aissa has expressed continued disdain for Saied and his tactics.

“Saied is creating a diversion,” Aissa stated. “He’s mixing political targets with criminal cases to give an impression that political actors are responsible for price rises and food shortages.”

Meanwhile, Chebbi, along with three other men, were charged with conspiring against state security. Chebbi and the other men now sit in pre-trial detention but have been boycotting the hearings. They will be tried in military court.

Alongside Chebbi is Abdelhamid Jlassi, a prominent member of the Islamist Ennadha party. The party represents the majority of pre-coup politics in Tunisia. His party expressed solidarity with Ben M’barek and all others arrested. 

“(Ennadha) strongly condemns the widening campaign of arbitrary arrests,” party representatives shared.

“This treatment and the arrests show that the authorities are flailing around and have failed to manage the political, economic and social situation as well as Tunisia’s international relations,” Ahmed Najib Chebbi, current NSF head and brother to Chebbi, said.

Both the NSF and Ben M’barek’s Citizens Against the Coup movement were founded in response to the 2021 suspension of parliament and dismissal of the prime minister by Saied. The move was seen as a power grab by many Tunisian citizens and caused riots in the country’s capital of Tunis.

Since freezing parliament, Saied also seized control of the judiciary early last year. Saied has warned judges handling the trials of the dissidents. 

“Anyone who dares to acquit is their accomplice,” he stated.

Now, in addition to backlash from the arrests, Saied faces additional protests in Tunis related to a series of racist comments made about sub-Saharan African immigrants.

“We call on the authorities to work towards bringing justice sector legislation, procedures and practices into line with applicable international norms and standards, and through the separation of powers, to uphold the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law,” Jeremy Laurence, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights, said.