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Two Opponents of Tunisia’s Saied ‘to Be Freed’: Defence

Two leading opponents of Tunisian President Kais Saied are to be freed after spending more than five months in jail, their defence committee announced Thursday.

Chaima Issa, a member of the main opposition coalition the National Salvation Front, was arrested in February along with former minister Lazhar Akremi.

Both were among some 20 opposition, media and business figures arrested in February on charges of “conspiracy against state security”.

Saied froze parliament and sacked the government in a dramatic July 2021 move against the sole democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings.

His critics have dubbed the move a “coup” while human rights groups condemned a “witch hunt” aimed at “repressing” freedom of opinion in the North African country.

The defence team for Issa and Akremi said in a statement that the investigating judge decided to “release Chaima Issa and also responded to the defence committee’s request for the release of Lazhar Akremi”, a lawyer.

The appeals court judge rejected the team’s request for the release of other political opponents.

Earlier Thursday, around 100 protesters had rallied in Tunisia’s capital to demand freedom for the 20 detained critics of Saied, who has ruled largely by decree for the past two years.

The demonstrators, including detainees’ relatives, gathered outside the Court of Appeal, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Saied has described the jailed figures as “terrorists”.

Speaking to AFP on Thursday, Imed Khemiri, spokesperson for the Islamist-inspired opposition Ennahdha party, denounced the arrests as “political”.

Ennahdha was the largest party in parliament before Saied suspended the chamber before dissolving it.

These imprisonments “reflect a suffocating political crisis in Tunisia” but they “cannot silence free voices”, added Khemiri, whose party belongs to the opposition coalition.

Abdelaziz Chebbi, the son of the 65-year-old jailed FSN leader Issam Chebbi, also denounced the arrests.

“My father is paying the price for his love for Tunisia,” he said.

“The judiciary is at the orders of the executive power and not independent.”

Issam Chebbi was a fierce opponent of late dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, ousted in 2011 in Tunisia’s revolt that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

In addition to the political crisis triggered by Saied’s power grab, Tunisia has been shaken by a serious financial crisis and is in search of foreign aid.

On Wednesday, European parliamentarians expressed their opposition to any “unconditional agreement” between the European Union and Tunisia, citing “the excesses” of Saied.

They called on the Tunisian authorities to “release arbitrarily imprisoned opponents, defend the rights of Tunisian citizens and support their struggle for democracy”.

Source: The New Arab