Tunisia: Activists, prominent businessman arrested by police

World Sunday 12/February/2023 14:51 PM
By: DW
Tunisia: Activists, prominent businessman arrested by police

Tunis: Police in Tunisia have arrested influential businessman Kamel Eltaief, a former confidant of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and two political activists in a case that, according to local media, was based on suspicion of conspiracy against state security.

The 68-year-old businessman was arrested at his home in capital Tunis, lawyer Nizar Ayed said on Saturday.

Abdelhamid Jelassi, a former senior leader of the Islamist-inspired movement Ennahdha — staunch opponents of President Kais Saied — and political activist Khayam Turki were also arrested.

Rights groups have raised concerns about political freedoms in Tunisia amid a rise in the arrest and prosecution of politicians, journalists and others since Saied's claimed wide-ranging powers in a dramatic move against the North African nation's parliament in 2021.

Saied's political rivals, deemed traitors by the president, have accused him of a coup aimed at pulling apart the democracy built after the 2011 revolution.

What do we know about the arrests?
On Saturday evening, seven police officers searched Jelassi's home and seized his mobile phone before arresting him, Ennahdha said.

Neither Turki nor Eltaief have been prominent critics of the president.

Turki is a former leading figure in the Ettakatol party and was at one point proposed by a coalition of parties as a candidate for prime minister.

The 58-year-old was arrested in an early morning raid, his lawyer Abdelaziz Essid said.

The lawyer also said that Turki was not known to be wanted by the authorities.

"He was taken to an unknown destination," said Essid, adding that the political activist  had not been "facing any legal proceedings" to justify his arrest.

Ennahda said later that Turki's arrest was aimed at intimidating the president's opponents.

What is the bigger political context in Tunisia?
Ettakatol was allied with the Ennahdha party within the government from 2011 to 2014, before the latter became part of the opposition.

Eltaief, a prominent power-broker, was involved in the 1987 coup that ousted former president Habib Bourguiba from power on medical grounds.

He was considered to be a close associate of Bourguiba's successor Ben Ali.

However, he fell out of grace with Ben Ali in 1992 and after the former president's ouster in 2011, the construction magnate moved closer to the opposition.

He was probed for "conspiracy against state security" in 2012, but no charges were brought against him. The case was later closed in 2014.