Families demand release of jailed Tunisian opposition figuresWed, 21 Feb 2024 14:41:32 GMT

Families of several jailed Tunisian opposition figures on Wednesday called for their release, including a number of detainees on hunger strike.Since February 2023, more than 20 opposition figures, whom Tunisian President Kais Saied has dubbed “terrorists”, have been held on suspicion of involvement in “conspiracy against the internal and external security of the state”.Among them are politician Jawhar Ben Mbarek, leader of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party Rached Ghannouchi, and Issam Chebbi, a leader of the opposition National Salvation Front — all of whom have been on hunger strike for days to demand their release.”For a year they have been in prison without any crime or charge,” said Ben Mbarek’s father, Ezzedine Hazgui. “This is arbitrary detention and a crime against humanity.”Speaking at a press conference with other family members of the jailed opposition figures, Hazgui told AFP that President Saied “is arresting all of his political opponents”.Lawyer Dalila Msaddek, from the detainees’ defence committee, told the press conference: “The hunger strike is starting to take its toll on their health, but they insist on continuing.”Several Tunisian and international human rights organisations have called for the release of the opposition figures, condemning court proceedings against them.Elected democratically in October 2019 with a five-year mandate, Saied launched a power grab in July 2021, dismissing the prime minister and suspending parliament.He later pushed through sweeping changes to concentrate power in his office, shaking the foundations of the only democracy born out of the first Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.