Tunisia’s political dilemma is becoming worse

Noureddine_Bhiri

Tunisa TunisiaThe interior minister stated Monday that detained Tunisian ex-justice minister Noureddine Bhiri of the Islamist-inspired Ennahda party, who is refusing food and medication after being transferred to hospital, is accused of “terrorism.” Bhiri, the deputy president of Ennahda and an adversary of President Kais Saied, was detained on Friday by plainclothes agents, and his whereabouts were originally unclear.

Until President Kais Saied’s power grab last year, Ennahda had played a key role in Tunisian politics. Tunisia was the only Arab Spring democracy to emerge a decade ago, but civil society groups and Saied’s opponents have raised concerns about a return to authoritarianism a decade after the revolution that removed longstanding tyrant Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. “We had to act since there were worries of terrorist actions threatening the country’s security,” Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine said late Monday of the arrest.

Bhiri is rejecting food and medication, according to a member of a delegation that visited him in hospital on Monday. Bhiri was alleged to be in a severe condition and facing death by activists and a former Ennahda politician on Sunday. Bhiri, 63, is “not in critical condition for the time being,” according to the source.

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A combined team from Tunisia’s independent anti-torture organisation INPT and the United Nations rights committee visited Bhiri in hospital in the northern town of Bizerte on Sunday, according to the source, who did not want to be identified. He is “lively and lucid,” and is being closely monitored in a separate room on the cardiology ward of the hospital. Bhiri, on the other hand, has “refused to take any food or medication” since Friday, requiring his “transport to hospital” two days later, according to the source.

Bhiri’s detention was described as “political” and a misuse of the court system by Samir Dilou, a lawyer and former Ennahda MP. He said he is filing a “kidnapping” complaint against Saied and Interior Minister Charfeddine during a Tunis press conference.
The interior minister stated late Monday that evidence detailing Bhiri’s activities had been handed to the Justice Ministry, but that the prosecution had “delayed” action on the case.

This caused Charfeddine to “immediately apply… judicial supervision” over Bhiri, who was accused of “falsifying” identification papers, including for a Syrian lady, according to Charfeddine. The minister claimed to have “personally confirmed” that the inmate is being “well handled.”

Saida Akremi, Bhiri’s lawyer wife, informed reporters that her husband had had a “heart attack” and that she was being denied access to him because she refused to sign paperwork as security services asked. Bhiri suffers from a number of chronic ailments, according to Mondher Ounissi, a doctor and member of Ennahdha’s executive bureau.

Fathi Baldi, a former interior ministry employee, has been named as the second individual seized by the anti-torture group INPT. On Sunday, the anti-Saied organization “Citizens against the coup” declared on Twitter that the president “bears entire responsibility for Mr. Bhiri’s life.”

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