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Tunisia Judge Extends Detention of Six Opposition Figures Over ‘Conspiring Against the State’s Security

A Tunisia judge has decided to extend the detention of six renowned politicians amid the rising crackdown on President Saied’s opponents. On Tuesday, 22 August, the investigative judge at the Counter-Terrorism Judicial Pole in Tunis ruled in favour of extending for four months the pre-trial detention of ex-ministers Ghazi Chawashi and Reda Belhaj, former Ennahda leader Abdelhamid Jelassi and ex-nominee for the PM position Khayam Al-Turki.

The four-month extension also included the founder of “Citizens Against the Coup”, Johar Ben Mubarak and Essam Chebbi, head of the opposition “Party of Republicans”. “Their clothes dripped with sweat and vomit. Essam al-Shabi fell on his back, and when he arrived at the investigation office, he was unable to walk or sit without feeling severe back pain,” Lawyer Islem Hamza, a member of the defence committee, wrote on a Facebook post describing the situation of detainees upon their arrival to the judge office.

The defence team asked the prosecution to present him immediately for a medical examination. The six renowned opponents of President Kais Saied were arrested in February during a large wave of arrests that targeted over forty politicians, activists, journalists and other critics of the government. They were arrested for “conspiring against the state’s security.” In principle, preventive detention in Tunisia cannot exceed six months. Therefore, they were set to be released on Tuesday 22 August.

However, within the limits provided for by Tunisia law, the investigating judge can extend preventive detention when the interest of the investigation justifies it. “Pre-trial detention is to carry out the necessary research and look into the crime, but in this file, there is no crime, and the film lacks any evidence,” Lawyer Haifaa al-Shabi, a member of the defence committee, told Al-Araby-Al-Jadeed, the Arabic-language sister publication to The New Arab.

Lawyer al-Shabi confirmed that the defence committee appealed the judge’s decision, but they have no hope for release. “There is no hope for their release, or even some of them, because the file is political and aims to eliminate the opposition in Tunisia,” she added. According to Tunisian law, the judge can extend the pre-trial detention for a second period of four-month. The Coordination of Detainees’ Families condemned the six political leaders’ extended detention as a flagrant law violation and a heinous assault on rights and freedoms.” 

Meanwhile, Tunisia’s National Salvation Front, the leading opposition group in the country, promised Tuesday a series of protests to showcase support for the detainees and pressure the judge to drop the “unbelievable” charges. The Front also promised to launch a united opposition in the upcoming days to stand against President Saied’s “coup against the democracy.”

In July 2021, President Saied suddenly shut down parliament, dismissed the government and moved to rule by decree before rewriting the constitution, moves his critics called a coup that pulled apart the democracy built after the 2011 revolution. Saied has denied a coup, saying his moves were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos.