Tunisian prosecutors extend prison sentence for opposition leader

Rached Ghannouchi now faces 15 months in jail for 'praising, glorifying and inciting' hatred

Rached Ghannouchi at the judicial police headquarters in Tunis in April last year. EPA
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Tunisian opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi had his prison sentence extended by prosecutors following an appeal trial on Monday.

Ennahda leader Mr Ghannouchi, who was initially sentenced to one year in jail in May, now has to serve 15 months following his appeal.

Mr Ghannouchi was not in court for his appeal sentencing and the exact details of the verdict leading to the extension of his time in jail remain unclear, his lawyer, Samir Dilou, told The National.

His lawyer said his legal team had been trying to get a copy of the verdict but had not yet been able to.

The Specialised Terrorism Division at the Tunis Court of Appeal also ruled that Mr Ghannouchi would be subjected to three years of probation following his release, as well as a fine of 1.000 dinars ($315).

Mr Ghannouchi, 81, appeared in court at the end of February after a police union filed a case against him. The case accused Mr Ghannouchi of calling officers “tyrants” in a eulogy he delivered at an Ennahda party member's funeral in February 2021.

Prosecutors sentenced Mr Ghannouchi on the case and accused him of “praising, glorifying and inciting to hatred”, local media reported.

Ennahda has repeatedly denied the allegations relating to the case and said that the use of the word “tyrant” was taken out of context.

“Mr Ghannouchi, in his speech, mentioned that Mr Laabar [the deceased] was someone who had struggled for freedom, who had feared neither poverty nor ruler nor dictator, which referred to the late person’s peaceful struggle against the dictatorships of presidents [Habib] Bourguiba and [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali,” Ennahda said in May.

The former parliament speaker has been questioned by the anti-terrorism judicial unit on multiple occasions and has been only indicted on this case.

Mr Ghannouchi, who is one of the most prominent opponents of Tunisian President Kais Saied, continues to face allegations in six other cases, including the case publicly known as the “conspiracy against state security case”.

At least 10 people have been arrested in connection with the case over the past year.

Prosecutors accused the detainees of “conspiring against state security”, and “forming an unlawful alliance to change the nature of the state”.

The arrests and prosecutions, which include members of the National Salvation Front and its main member, Ennahda, as well as businessmen and journalists, have drawn concern from the US, the European Parliament, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

On Monday, a release request by the detainees’ lawyers was denied, despite them having spent more than eight months in detention without a trial.

Mr Saied has repeatedly described those detained as terrorists and accused them, without providing evidence, of plotting against Tunisia’s national security.

Critics accused him of meddling in the judiciary’s authority and using his authority to influence the investigation.

Updated: October 31, 2023, 1:55 PM