Plainclothes officers in the Tunisian capital on Friday arrested a senior Ennahdha party official who played a central role in the country’s politics until President Kais Saied took power.
The party condemned the arrest of Noureddine Bhiri, former justice minister and vice-president of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha, as a “dangerous precedent”.
“Agents in plain clothes in two cars arrested Noureddine Bhiri as he was leaving his home with his wife” in Tunis, Samir Dilou, lawyer and former lawmaker, told AFP.
Tunisia was the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, but civil society groups and opponents of Saied have expressed fears of a return to authoritarianism a decade after the revolution that toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Saied on July 25 sacked the Ennahdha-backed government and suspended parliament, posing as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution.
He then took steps to rule by decree and, in early December, pledged to continue reforms of the political system.
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The former law professor announced an 11-week “popular consultation” to produce “a draft of constitutional and other reforms” before a referendum on July 25.
His opponents have denounced a “coup” and warned against what they see as Saied’s willingness to settle scores with those he has called “enemies” but never names.
Bhiri was “brutally arrested and taken to an unknown destination,” Dilou said.
Officers also seized the cell phone of Bhiri’s wife, Saida Akremi, who is a lawyer, he added.
No official source was available to give the reasons for the arrest.
In a statement, Ennahdha said Bhiri was being questioned by the authorities and denounced “a kidnapping and a dangerous precedent marking the entry of the country into a tunnel leading to dictatorship”.
Ennahdha was the largest party in the legislature suspended by Saied.
But political rivalries had blocked ministerial appointments and diverted resources from solving Tunisia’s growing economic and social problems, leading many in the country to initially welcome the president’s takeover.
In his press release on Friday, Ennahdha denounced “the liquidation of opponents outside the legal framework”.
A Tunisian court sentenced last week in absentia the ex-president in exile Moncef Marzouki, fierce critic of Saïed, to four years in prison.
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