Rached Ghannouchi, speaker of Tunisia’s dissolved parliament and the president of the Ennahdha party, has appeared at a police station after being summoned to answer questions over what his party has said are accusations relating to “terrorism”.
Dozens of protesters, including lawyers and political activists, gathered on Monday outside the building in the capital, Tunis, to demonstrate against the questioning of Ghannouchi, who has denounced President Kais Saied’s seizure of broad powers.
“The police state is finished. We are with you Ghannouchi,” some of them chanted. Others shouted “Freedom!”
Tunisian authorities have not given any statement on the reason for Ghannouchi’s summons.
Ennahdha officials said on Saturday that Ghannouchi and another party member, former Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh, would be questioned by police for “sending jihadists to Syria”, but without giving details.
Ghannouchi has been a key player in Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that brought democracy, with his party joining several successive coalition governments.
When Saied seized most powers last summer and shut down the parliament, Ghannouchi accused him of an anti-democratic coup, something the president has denied.
‘New step towards exclusion’
Speaking to Reuters news agency late on Saturday, Ghannouchi said the summons was “a new attempt to target opponents and a new step towards exclusion”.
Laarayedh said he had not been told officially why he was being summoned but that news had leaked that it was connected to the sending of fighters to Syria.
“I was against this phenomenon and took measures to limit it,” Laarayedh said.
Ennahdha spokesman Imad al-Khamiri told Al Jazeera the two were summoned only to distract the public from rising prices and economic concerns.
In a statement, Ennahdha accused Saied of creating “malicious cases” against the opposition.
The party added that it would reveal more details at a news conference expected to be held later on Monday.
Secular parties have accused Ennahdha of being lenient towards armed groups, something the party has long denied.
Separately, five Tunisian parties announced on Monday their boycott of the upcoming parliamentary elections set to take place in December. The vote was called for by Saied, who still retains support from some Tunisians who perceive him as a bulwark against political elites they blame for the country’s poor economic conditions.