Tunisia sentences opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi to three years in prison

Former house speaker given jail sentence alongside former Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem over illegal funding of his Ennahda political party

Rached Ghannouchi has been sentenced to prison over the funding of his political party, Ennahda. EPA
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A Tunisian court has sentenced Ennahda opposition party leaders Rached Ghannouchi and Rafik Abdessalem to three years in prison, state news agency TAP reported on Thursday.

Mr Ghannouchi is already serving a 15-month prison sentence, while his son-in-law Mr Abdessalem received the sentence in absentia as he is currently outside the country.

The two politicians had been accused of receiving funds from foreign lobbying companies to finance the electoral campaigns of their Ennahda party in the 2019 elections. They are both critics of Tunisian President Kais Saied, who has consolidated power in his own hands since 2021.

The accusations were made following a report issued by Tunisia’s specialist financial crimes court, the Court of Accounts.

The Tunis First Instance Court also ordered Ennahda's legal representative to pay a fine of $1.17 million, the same amount of money the party allegedly received from the foreign lobby groups.

Tunisia’s electoral law prohibits political parties from signing promotional contracts with foreign lobbying companies during an election.

Mr Ghannouchi, who is also the former house speaker, has been in prison since April and is currently serving a 15-month sentence for a case filed against him by a police union accusing him of calling officers “tyrants”.

Mr Abdessalem, who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2011 and 2013, had previously been sentenced to five years in prison following a Facebook post he wrote last February.

In the post, Mr Abdessalem accused the Tunisian Post Office of placing Tunisian citizens’ savings at the disposal of the government due to the country’s continuing public funds deficit crisis.

A growing number of Tunisian opposition members have been detained since last February on a variety of accusations, including “conspiracy against the state’s security” and corruption.

Critics accuse President Saied of influencing and meddling in the judiciary investigations to persecute his opponents and cement his rule.

Mr Saied froze Parliament in July 2021 and single-handedly pushed through sweeping changes to the country’s political system.

Updated: February 01, 2024, 8:05 PM