Tunisian opposition leader Ghannouchi starts a three-day hunger strike in prison

TUNIS (Reuters) -Jailed Tunisian opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi, a fierce critic of President Kais Saied, has begun a three-day hunger strike in support of other imprisoned opposition figures, his Islamist Ennahda party said on Friday.

Ghannouchi, 82, was sentenced to a year in jail in May on charges of incitement and plotting against state security. More than 20 other opposition figures have been detained this year.

They say Saied’s shutting down of the elected parliament in 2021 and moves to rule by decree amounted to a coup. Saied, who enshrined his new constitutional powers in a referendum with a low turnout last year, has denied his actions were a coup and said they were needed to save Tunisia from years of chaos.

An Ennahda party statement said its leader had launched the three-day action to support fellow jailed opposition figures who are protesting at what they say is unjust imprisonment.

Jawher Ben Mbarak, a prominent opposition figure who has been detained for more than seven months, began an open-ended hunger strike this week, arguing that his jailing was politically motivated.

Saied has called his critics criminals, traitors and terrorists and warned that any judge who freed them would be considered to be abetting them.

Ghannouchi, a political prisoner and exile before the 2011 revolution that brought democracy, was parliament speaker from the 2019 election and his party was the biggest in the legislature until Saied sent tanks to shut it down in 2021.

His lawyer said the charges against him stem from a funeral eulogy he gave last year for a member of his Ennahda party when he said the deceased “did not fear a ruler or tyrant, he only feared God.”

Tunisian authorities were not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Clauda Tanios; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Anil D’Silva and Philippa Fletcher)