Tunisian police have arrested former Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, a former senior member of the Ennahdha party, on suspicion of money laundering, his lawyer told Reuters.
Police in the city of Sousse seized the phones of Jebali and his wife, and then took him to an unknown location on Thursday, according to a statement by his family on Facebook.
Jebali’s arrest raises opposition concerns over the human rights situation in Tunisia since President Kais Saied dissolved parliament last July, in a move his opponents called a coup.
The interior ministry declined to comment on Jebali’s arrest. The ministry called a press conference for Friday, without giving any details.
Jebali’s defence team have said they have been able to meet with him at the detention centre where he is being held.
“Jebali told us he will not answer the investigators’ questions and he entered into a hunger strike as the issue has a political motivation and nothing to do with money laundering,” Jebali’s lawyer Mokhtar Jemai said.
Ennahdha, which describes itself as a Muslim Democrat party, was previously the biggest party in Tunisia’s parliament.
At the time, Saied said the move to suspend parliament and seize executive powers was temporary and was needed to save Tunisia from what he saw as a corrupt, self-serving elite.
“The president is personally responsible for Jebali’s physical and psychological well-being,” Jebali’s family said in the Facebook post, and called on civil society and human rights organisations “to stand up against these repressive practices”.
Jebali was prime minister in 2012 and resigned in 2013 following a political crisis.
Earlier this year, police arrested Noureddine Bhiri, the vice president of Ennahdha, and detained him for more than two months before releasing him without any charges being brought.
Saied’s opponents say he is waging a campaign through the police and the judiciary to target his opponents, a charge he denies.
Since his seizure of executive powers he has set aside Tunisia’s 2014 constitution, and rules by decree.
His moves initially won a large amount of public support, after years of frustration with Tunisia’s political elite, but public anger is growing amid high inflation and unemployment, and declining public services.
Saied is now planning a referendum on July 25, where Tunisians will vote on a new constitution, a vote the opposition has said they will boycott. The Tunisian parliament will remain suspended until a vote is held for a replacement assembly on December 17, 2022.
On June 1, Saied dismissed 57 judges, accusing them of corruption and protecting “terrorists” – charges the Tunisian Judges’ Association (TJA) said were politically motivated. In response the TJA launched a national strike, which has now been extended for its third week.
In February, Saied dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council, which had acted as the main guarantor of judicial independence since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, which overthrew former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Saied has said the decisions were needed to cleanse the judiciary of rampant corruption and that he does not aim to control the judiciary.