Skip to main content

Tunisia: HRW calls on President Saied to release ex-prime minister

Ex-premier Ali Laarayedh has been held on terrorism charges since December 2022 for failing to stem the spread of Salafi Islam in Tunisia
Tunisia's former premier and general secretary of the Islamist Ennahda party, Ali Laarayedh, holds a press conference in Tunis on 26 September 2022 (AFP)

Human Rights Watch has called on Tunisia to release former prime minister and senior Ennahda leader Ali Laarayedh from detention, as President Kais Saied continues his crackdown against any opposition and critical media inside the country. 

Laareyedh, who served as Tunisia's interior minister from December 2011 to February 2013 and prime minister between March 2013 and January 2014, has been held on terrorism charges since December 2022 without seeing a judge.

According to his detention warrant, the 67-year-old stands accused of failing to curb the spread of the Salafi interpretation of Islam and the growth of the Islamist armed group Ansar al-Sharia during his time in office.

The warrant issued by an investigative judge in the Tunis First Instance Court's Anti-Terrorism Unit accused Laarayedh of "not addressing or fighting the Salafi phenomenon" - despite Salafism not being banned in Tunisia - and "the organisation of Ansar al-Sharia in the necessary way, thus contributing to the expansion of their activities…and the increase in the departure of young people to hotbeds of tension for jihad”.

The judge also accused Laarayedh of "not dealing with Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist organisation" despite his government banning the terrorist group in August 2013.  

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


His arrest is part of a broad police investigation into how thousands of Tunisians left the country to join the Islamic State group and other militant groups in Iraq, Libya and Syria after 2011. 

Tunisian police have also summoned Ennahda's leader Rached Ghannouchi and other senior party leaders for questioning about how so many Tunisians went to fight overseas.

Laarayedh's lawyers told HRW that the former minister was not questioned following his arrest but was interviewed by the police Anti-Terrorist Unit on 20 September 2022 and an investigative judge on 19 December. 

Tunisia's political prisoners are being humiliated in filthy bug-infested cells
Read More »

They added that Laarayedh was questioned about his management style and decisions related to religious fundamentalism while in office, but not about how Tunisians left the country to join armed groups overseas. 

Salsabil Chellali, HRW's Tunisia director, said his arrest is another example of Saied's crackdown against political opposition inside the country.

“Based on the available information, Laarayedh’s prosecution seems like one more example of President Saied’s authorities trying to silence leaders of the Ennahda party and other opponents by tarring them as terrorists,” said Chellali. 

“The authorities should immediately free Laarayedh and other political figures and critics they are holding in the absence of credible evidence of crimes.”

In the past month, about 30 political activists, judges, lawyers and the head of a radio station have been arrested and accused of conspiring against national security. Amnesty International has described the crackdown as a "politically motivated witch hunt".

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.