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Tunisia: Ghannouchi's SIM cards used by 'unknown party' while in prison

Opposition leader's daughter says her father 'has joined Telegram' even though he's been in prison since April
Rached Ghannouchi speaks with AFP in the capital Tunis, with Al-Jazeera channel broadcast in the background, 31 March 2022 (AFP)

Tunisia's opposition movement, Ennahda, said that "an unknown party" has used the phone number of its imprisoned leader, Rached Ghannouchi, to open a social media account.

Ghannouchi was arrested on 17 April and investigated by an anti-terrorism unit after being taken to a national security forces’ base in El-Aouina last month.

Despite being incarcerated, Ghannouchi's phone number appears to have been used to open an account on Telegram, according to his family.

The Ennahda party said in a statement that two SIM cards belonging to Ghannouchi were "operated by an unknown party".

His daughter, Yusra Ghannouchi, tweeted on Sunday that she had received a notification that her father "'has joined telegram' while he has been in prison for almost one month".

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"Who is using his number and to what sinister end?" she wrote.

Ghannouchi's family has accused the government of President Kais Saied of conducting "political trials and endless interrogations" with the aim of "exhausting him physically and mentally".

The family said that Ghannouchi decided to boycott the interrogation sessions and has since released a pre-recorded video message, warning that Tunisians "are facing another episode of political targeting by judicial means".

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Twelve other senior figures of Ennahda have been arrested since April. Ghannouchi is facing charges of "conspiring against the state" and incitement.

Last week, his daughter Soumaya said her father had refused to appear before a Tunisian court.

"I, Rached Ghannouchi, categorically refuse to appear before a court that does not meet the conditions for justice and is designed to establish a tyrannical, dictatorial regime reminiscent of Pharaoh’s regime," Soumaya tweeted her father's message.

In July 2021, Saied unilaterally suspended parliament and dissolved the government in what has been called a "constitutional coup". He subsequently ruled by decree before pushing through a new constitution that enshrined his one-man rule.

Prior to Saied's power grab, Ennahda controlled the majority of seats in the Tunisian parliament.

Ghannouchi, a fierce critic of Saied's consolidation of power, also had a travel ban issued against him last year. His Tunisian bank accounts and those of several relatives and members of his party were also frozen.

In August, it was revealed that Ghannouchi's phone was targeted by Saudi Arabia for surveillance using the NSO Group's Pegasus spyware.

Ghannouchi is one of 50,000 numbers found on a list acquired by investigative NGO Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International that is believed to be made up of phones that the Israeli tech company’s clients have targeted since 2016.

Forbidden Stories told Ghannouchi his primary number, which he has used for 10 years, was selected for surveillance by someone in Saudi Arabia in 2019. The number is not in the public domain.

The same NSO client has also targeted high-ranking officials in Turkey, the UAE and Lebanon, as well as several opponents of the Saudi monarchy, which suggests that it was a Saudi operator.

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