Tunisian opposition members to be questioned after terrorism allegations

Prosecutor moves against high-profile figures who say complaint by political opponent is part of an attempt by Saied government to silence them

Demonstrators take part in a rally in Tunis called for by the opposition National Salvation Front against President Kais Saied. AFP
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Critics of Tunisia's President Kais Saied have been summoned before Tunis’s general prosecution, the opposition National Salvation Front has said.

Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, Jaouher Ben Mbarek, Chaima Issa, Ridha Belhaj — all members of the Salvation Front — and former president Moncef Marzouki are among those under investigation by prosecutors after a complaint from Free Dostourian Party leader Abir Moussi.

“Ms Moussi is accusing us of harbouring and financing terrorism as well as taking advantage of an unauthorised association,” Mr Chebbi said, denying the charges.

He accused the prosecution of bias and attempting to silence political opponents of Mr Saied.

“We tell the authority that their game is obvious and their attempt to take advantage of this case to drag us down will not work,” Mr Chebbi said, claiming that the prosecution has no evidence other than Ms Moussi's statement to pursue an investigation of such nature.

“We have told you in June that the regime is getting ready to put all political opposition behind bars,” Mr Chebbi said.

“We are seeing that happen now, with more than 120 former members of parliament undergoing investigation at the moment.”

Mr Chebbi said he will not comply with any subpoenas, saying there were no grounds for them and the investigation was politically motivated.

The National Salvation Front is one of the major opposition coalitions in Tunisia and has staged a series of protests since Mr Saied dissolved parliament in July 2021.

Tunisian lawyer Ayachi Hammami, a defence lawyer for judges exempted from prosecution by Mr Saied last June, is also facing charges following an official complaint from Justice Minister Leila Jaffel.

Mr Hammami told local media that he is being accused of “the deliberate use of social media networks to spread false rumours”.

"I am being accused of defamation and spreading false rumours, based on Article 24 of Decree 54, which was issued by Kais Saied to pursue people who would speak up against him," Mr Hammami told The National on Tuesday.

He said that he could face up to 10 years in prison sentence and a fine of 100,000 dinars (about $32,000) if found guilty.

“It is absurd that they are putting people on trial for such accusations. How can this person [Kais Saied] be fit to run a state?" Mr Hammami told The National.

Mr Saied said in an official address last week that judicial actions must be taken against those who tarnish the reputation of “symbols of the state”, framing all criticism as a form of attack on national security.

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Updated: January 03, 2023, 6:10 PM