Tunisian opposition leader in court on incitement charges

  • World
  • Tuesday, 21 Feb 2023

FILE PHOTO: Islamist Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi gestures outside Judicial Pole of Counter-Terrorism after a Tunisian judge postponed a terrorism hearing against him in Tunis,Tunisia September 21, 2022. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui

TUNIS (Reuters) - Rached Ghannouchi, Tunisia's former parliament speaker and head of its biggest political party, appeared before an investigative judge on Tuesday to be questioned on suspicion of incitement against the police, which he and his Ennahda party deny.

The case against Ghannouchi comes after a wave of recent arrests of critics of President Kais Saied, including several senior Ennahda figures, that rights organisations have criticised as evidence of a crackdown on dissent.

Neither the police nor the judge has commented publicly on the case.

Ghannouchi's lawyer said the accusation was based on a complaint by police about a speech he gave last year at the funeral of a party member, saying the deceased "did not fear a ruler or a tyrant, he only feared God".

The lawyer said the police objected to the reference to a tyrant and that they viewed the language as close to that used by Islamist militants to describe secular authorities.

Ghannouchi, who was greeted outside the court by dozens of his supporters and activists, has described the case against him as "empty and fabricated, and a continuation of the political targeting of enemies of Kais Saied".

Ennahda, Tunisia's main Islamist party, was part of successive coalition governments alongside secular parties after the 2011 revolution that brought democracy and triggered the Arab spring uprisings.

Saied, who was elected in 2019, shut down the elected parliament in 2021, seizing most powers and moving to rule by decree before rewriting the constitution and passing it in a referendum last year.

Saied has said his actions were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos, but Ghannouchi along with other political party leaders, has accused him of an anti-democratic coup.

Last year Ghannouchi was brought before judges to answer accusations of money laundering related to Ennahda financing and that the party had helped Tunisian jihadists go to Syria to fight.

Ghannouchi and Ennahda have denied all those charges and the judges in those cases decided not to hold him in detention. During one of those court appearances, the 81 year-old Ghannouchi was questioned for 10 hours.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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