The former president’s lawyer Mouni Ben Salha told Mosaique radio on Thursday that Ben Ali’s daughter called him to say the 83-year-old is “very sick” after years of treatment for prostate cancer, the Associated Press news agency reported. The lawyer said Ben Ali is in a hospital in Jeddah.
Ben Salha told Reuters news agency on Thursday that the former ruler was suffering from a “health crisis”.
The lawyer’s announcement came as Tunisia prepares to hold a free presidential election on Sunday as it continues on the path of democratisation which began after mass protests drove Ben Ali from power in 2011, triggering the Arab Spring uprisings.
It is Tunisia’s second democratic presidential election since the 2011 uprising over corruption, unemployment and repression.
It is the first time that Ben Ali’s lawyer or family have gone public with news about the 83-year-old’s health.
Sunday’s vote has been brought forward after the death in July of late President Beji Caid Essebsi, a former foreign minister under Ben Ali who then helped Tunisia steer through its transition to democracy after the revolution.
In 2011, a Tunisian court sentenced Ben Ali in absentia to 35 years in prison on charges ranging from corruption to torture, and in 2012 a military court sentenced him to another 20 years for inciting “murder and looting”.
Ben Ali brooked no dissent or challenges to his authority during his 23-year rule but was eventually forced from power when Tunisians rose up in outrage following the self-immolation of a vegetable seller whose cart had been confiscated by police.
Given Tunisia’s economic troubles since Ben Ali’s removal, some have called for his return. But he remains detested by others.