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Tunisia: Prominent Saied Opponent Goes on Hunger Strike in Detention

A prominent political opponent of Tunisian President Kais Saied has gone on hunger strike in protest against his detention, the country’s Committee for the Defence of Political Detainees said on Tuesday. Jawhar Ben Mbarek decided to abstain from food, seven months after he was detained and detained for “conspiring against state security”.

Ben Mbarek’s arrest in February came amid an intensified crackdown on critics of President Kais Saied. The clampdown targeted opposition politicians, lawyers, businessmen and journalists. The committee confirmed in a statement that Ben Mbarek “went on a hunger strike starting at midnight on the night between Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 September,” in protest against “the judicial farce led by the investigating judge in Office 36 of the Anti-Terrorism Pole.”

The left-leaning former government adviser said he will not end this strike until “he and all those detained in this contrived and fabricated political case are released.” His sister, lawyer Dalila Ben Mbarek Msaddek, also confirmed the news on social media. The Committee for the Defence of Political Detainees said: “Despite the strong concern for the physical and psychological wellbeing of its representatives, it understands the circumstances that prompted the activist to make this dangerous decision in rejection of injustice and in protest against the use of the judiciary in political disputes.”

The committee went on to declare its “support for all individual and collective struggles waged by detainees in this case and all political detainees and victims of opinion trials in defence of their freedoms that were [taken away].” Ben Mbarek, an acclaimed professor of constitutional law, is a prominent member of the opposition coalition National Salvation Front (NSF), and leader of the “Citizens Against the Coup” movement.

Both groups were formed in response to Kais Saied’s 2021 power grab, which saw him sack the government and suspend parliament. Many critics have dubbed Saied’s move as a “coup.” Since his power grab, the president has gone on to rule by decree and seize control of the judiciary in Tunisia, which was once seen as the only successful democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring.