March 28, 2023

Tunis Mounia Brahim shakes as she recounts the arrest of her husband Abdelhamid Jelassi, a former politician from the Ennahdha get together, from their dwelling within the Tunisian capital.

“About 8pm Saturday [February 11]There was a banging on the backyard gate. Within the time it took my husband to stroll to the entrance gate [to see who it was]uniformed policemen have been climbing over our backyard wall, then walked straight into our residence, taking his cellphone and iPad and my cell and laptop computer,” she mentioned.

Jelassi is amongst a number of individuals whose often-violent, night-time detentions have shocked the nation and drawn worldwide condemnation whereas elevating fears over a crackdown on dissent. They embrace these with ties to the opposition, critics of President Kais Saiedbusinessmen, the pinnacle of a number one radio station, attorneys and a former diplomat.

Brahim mentioned the boys confirmed neither any police IDs nor a warrant even when she demanded, however she famous they have been carrying the civilian police uniform.

“They informed me they have been from the Ministry of Inside however wore civil police uniform,” she added, after which they took her husband. He’s at the moment being held in pre-trial detention in Mornaguia jail.

‘One other spherical of dictatorship’

For Brahim, that is historical past repeating itself. She mentioned she and her husband have been imprisoned and tortured beneath Zine El Abidine Ben Alithe former president who fled the nation in 2011 following protests in opposition to his oppressive rule.

“We have returned to a different spherical of dictatorship, however this time it’s a lot harder,” she mentioned.

Referring to what felt like a house invasion, she added, “I really feel that there isn’t a longer any dignity. I am beneath surveillance and I actually concern for my security.”

That very same evening, Khayam al-Turki, a member of the centre-left Ettakatol (Democratic Discussion board for Labor and Liberties) get together, was taken from his home after midnight and is at the moment detained beneath terrorism legal guidelines from 2015.

Like al-Turki, businessman Kamal Ltaief, reputed to be a strong lobbyist, was additionally held beneath the counterterrorism regulation.

Ltaief, who was as soon as very near Ben Ali and helped him rise to energy in 1987, survived investigations in the course of the 2011 revolution to proceed his enterprise and funding pursuits.

Former diplomat William Lawrence, a professor on the American College in Washington, DC, informed Al Jazeera: “Ltaief likes to name himself Tunisia’s de facto vice chairman after 1989. [and] has been described as an influence dealer or kingmaker, he has that talent of brokering offers.”

Al-Turki’s lawyer, Ridha Bel Hadj, mentioned his arrest is expounded to his assembly with two American diplomats. The police case notes point out the license plate numbers of the diplomats’ vehicles, the lawyer mentioned.

Bel Hadj defined that there was no formal cost in opposition to al-Turki, however a suggestion of his “forming a felony gang to hurt the Tunisian state”.

“The case in opposition to them is empty. They’re utilizing the terrorism regulation to carry them for a most of 15 days with out cost or session with a lawyer,” he mentioned, explaining that it was used to realize time.

Presidential candidate Kais Saied speaks to the media at his campaign headquarters.
President Kais Saied has pledged to ‘purify the nation’ utilizing the justice system [File: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

trampling dissent

A number of arrests have been made since Saturday. Aside from politicians, these being held are accused of value fixing, market manipulation or creating meals shortages.

Tunisians have for months been affected by shortages of meals – even primary requirements corresponding to oil, sugar, milk and butter – with the federal government making an attempt to stave off chapter whereas making an attempt to barter a refinancing mortgage from the Worldwide Financial Fund.

Saied has added gasoline to the hearth by accusing a few of these detained just lately of being chargeable for the value will increase and meals shortages whereas pledging to “purify the nation” utilizing the justice system.

Chaima Aissa, a pacesetter of the Nationwide Salvation Entrance, mentioned al-Turki has been organizing conferences of key opposition figures since December 27 to develop a roadmap to exit the disaster and rebuild the nation.

Aissa is already dealing with prices of criticizing the president on a radio interview beneath the cybercrime decree regulation of September 2022. She is at the moment at liberty, however beneath a journey ban awaiting trial in a navy court docket and will probably face years in jail if convicted.

Saied has confronted criticism and scrutiny from each the worldwide neighborhood and human rights teams for his use of navy courts to strive civilians.

“Saied is making a diversion, he is mixing political targets with felony instances to offer an impression that political actors are chargeable for value rises and meals shortages,” Aissa informed Al Jazeera.

“Saied is utilizing the terrorism act and price-fixing accusations to get public sympathy, it is pure populism,” mentioned Bel Hadj, including that it was merely a gathering of a bunch of politically like-minded individuals.

On Monday evening, Ennahdha’s vice chairman and former justice minister, Nourreddine Bhiri, 64, was taken into custody. The average Islamist get together was the most important in parliament till the meeting was suspended in 2021 by Saied.

Bhiri had been beforehand arrested, and his location was solely disclosed when he fell ailing from being on a starvation strike. It was lastly launched in March 2022.

Bhiri’s lawyer Samir Dillou informed Al Jazeera that police assaulted his spouse, arrested him and later beat him in custody.

“His proper shoulder was damaged and he obtained different accidents to his leg,” mentioned Dillou. “Surgical procedure on his shoulder was delayed,” the lawyer added, additionally explaining the issues as Bhiri is aged, with diabetes and hypertension.

The arrest of Nourredine Battou, the director common of Mosaiq FM, the nation’s largest radio community, on the evening of February 13, has been condemned by the journalist and radio unions. He was identified for giving a platform to these vital of Saied and his administration.

The radio station was a non-public firm, however the state took half possession after the 2011 revolution. Bel Hadj sees the arrest of Mosaiq FM’s head to realize management of its editorial line and silence vital debate and intimidate journalists.

On Thursday, the Tunisian journalists’ union SNJT demonstrated in entrance of presidency buildings, the Kasbah, denouncing the worsening working circumstances and arrests.

Legal professionals have additionally expressed concern over the surveillance that each Tunisian political figures and international diplomats are beneath.

Aissa famous that policing was again to the Ben Ali days when even being seen with a international journalist in a automotive was harmful. “They may make up a cost in opposition to me. Saied has arrived at a brand new degree of harassment, he is creating an environment of concern and individuals are actually afraid.”

A return to autocracy?

UN Excessive Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk expressed concern “over the deepening crackdown in opposition to perceived political opponents and civil society”, whereas the US State Division’s spokesman Ned Value mentioned “it’s a core US precept that folks world wide ought to be capable of categorical themselves with out concern or reprisal”.

Lawrence mentioned diplomats “virtually at all times know when they’re being surveilled, it’s a commonplace a part of diplomatic apply”, including that stories of surveillance can be adopted up with an investigation.

“The problem is that the US is a significant safety ally of Tunisia and the US is spending some huge cash to bolster safety forces together with surveillance [since the 2015-16 terror attacks on Tunisia]he mentioned.

Tunisia is popping its enhanced surveillance capability on Tunisian politicians assembly with US diplomats after which accusing them of conspiracy to hurt the state, he famous, including that “all that bodes very badly for the US-Tunisia relationship going forward”.

“If he [Saeid] desires to supplant the American position with the Russians or Chinese language, it would not assist his case for Tunisia to be safety companion with others sooner or later.”

Lawrence added that “if he did this in the present day with the US he may do [it] tomorrow with one other safety companion, it’s safety and diplomatic malpractice”.

Talking on Tunisian tv on Thursday, Dillou mentioned 14 attorneys, together with himself, have been summoned for trial in March.

He believes that they’re being focused as a result of they’re representing political figures and critics, and “the quantity will probably be elevated. Some could possibly be arrested even earlier than the date set for his or her court docket look.”

There will likely be extra arrests, Bel Hadj mentioned. The president “is blocked inside his personal political programme. I believe Saied has no alternative however to proceed to train his authoritarian energy.”

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