Detained Tunisian opposition politician goes on hunger strike

Jaouher Ben Mbarek, an opponent of President Kais Saied, has been in pre-trial detention since February

Tunisian politician Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, centre, during a protest. He is facing charges of conspiring against state security. AP
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A Tunisian opposition politician has gone on hunger strike in prison after spending more than seven months in pretrial detention, a group of lawyers defending detainees said on Tuesday.

Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, a leader of the National Salvation Front, has been held in custody since February 2023, the Political Detainees Defence Committee said.

The prominent critic of Tunisia's President Kais Saied is facing allegations, together with other opposition members, of conspiring against state security.

Mr Ben Mbarek will be on hunger strike in protest against the “judicial farce led by the investigative judge at the antiterrorism Division”, his lawyer Dalila Msaddek said in a Facebook post

Ms Msaddek is part of the Defence Committee.

An investigative judge issued an arrest warrant against Mr Ben Mbarek and accused him of assisting in the forming an alliance “with the aim of conspiring against the internal and external security of the state”.

Lawyers said Mr Ben Mbarek is determined to remain on strike until “all grievances” are resolved, including a demand for his release together with the other opposition members detained in the case.

The Defence Committee said, despite concerns for Mr Ben Mbarek's well-being and safety, it understood the circumstances that forced him to go on hunger strike.

The strike comes “in rejection of injustice and in protest against the use of the judiciary in political rivalry”, the group said.

The Tunisian opposition has denied the government's accusations in the conspiracy case, calling the charges “fabricated” and accusing the judiciary of siding with Mr Saied in his plan to suppress dissent.

Mr Saied said in several addresses that judicial action 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.

Following these remarks, judges have detained more than 20 political, judicial, media and business figures with opposition ties in recent months, accusing them of plotting against state security.

The president has also called the detainees “terrorists” and “traitors” and accused judges who free such prisoners of abetting their alleged crimes.

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

He has ruled by decree since then, having de facto control over all branches of power including the judiciary.

Despite the criticism, Mr Saied has said his actions are legal and necessary to rescue the country from years of chaos and corruption.

Updated: September 27, 2023, 10:37 AM