Tunisia should release critics of president: Amnesty


Tunisian authorities should release detainees arrested on “baseless conspiracy allegations” and their criminal investigation focused mainly on political opponents of President Kais Saied, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

Since mid-February, many of Saied’s most prominent opponents have been arrested by authorities, who have publicly accused them of plotting against the state and labeled them “terrorists”.

Saied has seized almost total power since he froze the parliament and sacked the Tunisian government in July 2021.

Opponents accuse him of restoring autocratic rule in the North African country, the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprising more than a decade ago.

The criminal investigation of at least 17 people is “among the most nakedly aggressive attacks by the authorities” since Saied took power, Amnesty said in a statement.

Among those targeted are members of the opposition, political activists, lawyers, and the head of a radio station known for giving a platform to criticism of the president.

“The Tunisian authorities should immediately release all those detained who cannot present credible evidence of criminal behavior as recognized by international law, and close the investigations against them,” said Amnesty’s regional director , Heba Morayef.

The rights group alleged that some of those being detained were questioned about meetings with each other, foreign diplomats and journalists, actions it said were protected by rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly.

“Just 12 years after Tunisians started a revolution for dignity and basic freedoms, the authorities are returning with alarming speed to old repressive measures,” said Morayef.

“Running and imprisoning dissidents on vague charges sends a chilling message that no one in Tunisia can express their views freely without fear of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention ,” Morayef said.

Several dozen supporters of the detainees protested on Thursday morning outside the Tunisian courthouse, demanding their release and chanting: “Down with the coup” and “Freedom for all political prisoners”.

Saied took control of the judiciary last year and has said that judges who “dare to free them” will be seen as “accomplices”.

Amnesty said that this statement, “along with the President’s arbitrary dismissal of 57 judges in 2022, contributes to a climate of intimidation for the judiciary.”

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