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Tunisian protesters demand release of ‘political prisoners’

About 300 protesters gathered in Tunis to demand the release of former ministers, businessmen and other opposition members in custody.

Hundreds of supporters of Tunisia’s main opposition coalition have rallied to demand the release of nearly 20 jailed opponents of President Kais Said.

Amid a heavy security deployment, the opposition coalition called the National Salvation Front held a vigil in front of the Municipal Theater in the heart of the capital Tunis on Sunday.

300 protesters carried pictures of what many called “political prisoners” in defense of former ministers, business figures and others jailed since February.

They chanted slogans accusing Said of dictatorship and sabotaging the country and economy, and challenged the campaign of arrests and prosecutions among the opposition.

“Freedom! Freedom!” they chanted, as they demanded elections ahead of the October 2024 deadline.

In March, the European Parliament, in a defiant resolution, condemned Sayed’s “authoritarian drift”, saying those arrested were “terrorists” involved in “conspiracies against state security”.

‘Rejection of torture’

Tunisia is the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings in the region more than a decade ago, but Sayed was suspended in July 2021, then dissolved, as part of a power grab that parliament allowed him to rule by decree.

Among those detained is Rashed Ghannouchi, head of the Islamist-inspired Ennahda party, which was the largest in parliament before Said took control.

“They are imprisoned because they are exercising their legitimate right to dissent,” Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, head of the National Salvation Front, told protesters.

On Friday, counter-terrorism officials questioned Ghannouchi for three hours as part of an investigation into claims of “conspiracy against state security”.

Abdul Latif al-Makki, a former health minister, told Al Jazeera that authorities arrested opposition leaders with the aim of “throwing them in prison and silencing their voices rejecting torture”.

“The Salvation Front will continue its actions to resist the coup’s authority and put pressure on it to release the prisoners,” Al-Makki said.

Al-Makki continues to express his rejection of the “systematic targeting of opponents through political trials that are not based on any evidence of guilt”.

He added that Saeed has only been successful since the emergency measures to suppress the opposition, undermine the independence of the judiciary, subvert democracy and establish tyranny and injustice nearly two years ago.

Interactive - Tunisia's Democratic Crisis
(Al Jazeera)

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