The ongoing arrests and intimidation of activists and members of the political opposition, journalists and activists is another strategy by President Kais Saied to silence critics and further restrict civic space, global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today.
Over the last several days at least 12 people including a journalist, political figures, activists, lawyers and judges have been arbitrarily arrested in a move synonymous to a period in July 2021 when President Saied consolidated power to entrench his authority. Those arrested have been labelled “traitors” by President Saied who has also threatened anyone who defends them. President Saied also informed a National Security Council meeting that migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa are part of a campaign to change the demographic composition of Tunisia in order to make it “purely Africa.”
On 24 February, the police arrested a prominent opposition member and one of the leaders of the National Salvation Front - Jawher Ben Mbarek without disclosing the charges against him. His father, also a member of the political opposition had been held for several hours a day before. On 13 February, the authorities arrested journalist and director of Mosaique FM Radio Nourredine Boutar and accused him of “illicit enrichment,” and money laundering. His arrest is related to hosting a segment of Mosaique Radio called “Midi Show” which is critical of the authorities. Boutar was interrogated by security forces about the content produced by the radio and the journalists they employ. Before that on 22 February, officers from the counterterrorism unit arrested two members of the political opposition - Issam Chebbi and Chaima Issa from the Jomhouri party and National Salvation Front respectively. The authorities have not provided any evidence to substantiate the reasons they provide for the arrests.
“After consolidating his power over the last two years, President Saied is now arresting critics of his actions to send a strong message to Tunisians that those who voice their opposing views will be subjected to arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment. In the space of several years, President Saied has reversed the consolidated democratic gains that began a decade ago” says David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.
Members of the political opposition, activists, lawyers and former judges continue to be targeted and prosecuted for expressing views that are critical of the authorities. Human rights lawyer Ayachi Hammani is currently facing charges of spreading false information and threatening state security based on an interview he granted in December 2022 in which he was critical of the erosion of the independence of the judiciary by the authorities. He had granted the interview in his capacity as coordinator of the Committee to Defend Judges.
The ongoing restrictions and targeting of members of the political opposition and critics of the regime have been preceded by actions by President Saied to consolidate his authority and act with impunity. Since July 2021, he suspended parliament, dismissed several judges and dissolved the Superior Council of the Judiciary, a body set up after the 2011 protests to guarantee the independence of the judiciary. President Saied later passed a Presidential Decree, granting himself absolute powers to fire judges. Journalists, activists and perceived political opponents are subjected to judicial persecution in some cases before military tribunals.
Tunisia is rated Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor.