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Tunisia sentences opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi to year in prison

Ghannouchi's imprisonment marks high-profile escalation in a crackdown by President Kais Saied
Rached Ghannouchi is latest member of the Ennahda party to be arrested by Tunisian police (AFP/File photo)

The Tunisian opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi has been sentenced in absentia to a year in prison, marking the most high-profile escalation in an authoritarian crackdown by President Kais Saied.

Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s main opposition party, Ennahda, was arrested last month on the orders of a Tunisian investigative judge and was under investigation by authorities for money laundering and incitement to violence, charges he denies and that his supporters claim were politically motivated. 

Yusra Ghannouchi, the party leader’s daughter, told Middle East Eye previously that 100 plain-clothes officers had arrived at her parents’ home in April to search the property during her father’s arrest.

In a pre-recorded video message published on his Facebook page last month, Ghannouchi said: "We are facing another episode of political targeting by judicial means."

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"We do not have a problem with the judiciary, but we do have a problem with dictatorship. The battle in the country is between democracy and dictatorship, which wants to confiscate the gains of our blessed revolution.

"The cases filed against us are meaningless, as testified by legal experts."

In 2021, the democratically elected Saied shuttered parliament. He replaced it with a rubber-stamp assembly and rewrote the constitution to consolidate power. He has since launched a wave of arrests targeting journalists, activists and political opponents.

Ghannouchi, who is a fierce critic of Saied's power grab, 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 addition to overseeing a slew of arrests, Tunisia's Ministry of Interior banned Ennahda from holding meetings in the country by a decree, while the National Salvation Front, another opposition group, was banned from meeting in Tunis.

US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel previously condemned Ghannouchi’s arrest and the closure of Ennahda’s headquarters as "fundamentally at odds with the principles Tunisians adopted in a constitution".

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