Three Tunisian opposition leaders on hunger strike in prison

Ennahdha party leaders stop eating to protest against their imprisonment on terrorism, money-laundering charges.

Atig greeting supporters outdoors against a bright blue sky
Ennahdha party MP Sahbi Atig, centre, demonstrates against President Kais Saied's suspension of parliament and dismissal of the prime minister on July 26, 2021 [Jdidi Wassim/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

Three leaders of Tunisia’s opposition Ennahdha party are on hunger strike in protest against their detention and stripping of fundamental rights in what is widely seen as part of a government crackdown against opponents of President Kais Saied.

Sahbi Atig, 64, has been on hunger strike for 32 days. His health has deteriorated severely, his wife, Zeineb Mraihi, said on Monday after visiting him in prison.

Atig, a member of Ennahdha’s Shura Council, was arrested on May 6 as he was on his way to attend a conference in Turkey. He has been held since on “suspicion of money laundering”.

“He has lost 17kg [37lbs], his heart rhythm is weak and he can hardly speak,” Mraihi said, adding that Atig spent several days in intensive care at a hospital a week ago.

‘Dangerous policy’

Ennahdha issued a statement on Monday after another of its leaders, Ahmed Mechergui, 54, a former member of parliament and chief of staff of the party’s leader, began a hunger strike on Sunday to protest against his incarceration since April 18.

“Forcing detainees to go on hunger strikes as a last resort to defend themselves is a dangerous policy and a great risk to the lives of Tunisians whose only fault is their disagreement with the ruling authorities,” the statement read.

It also made reference to the detention of activist and Ennahdha Shura member Youssef Nouri, who was arrested about the same time as Mechergui. Nouri has been on hunger strike since April 24 to “protest the lack of the most basic and fundamental of prisoner’s rights”, his lawyer Latifa Habbechi said on the first day of his strike.

On Saturday, Ennahdha published a petition by 52 Tunisian law professors calling on the government to release “all political detainees and prisoners of conscience who were imprisoned without justification or a fair trial”.

In March, the European Parliament, in a non-binding resolution, decried the “authoritarian drift” of Saied, who said those detained are “terrorists” involved in a “conspiracy against state security”.

The Ennahdha party was the largest in parliament before Saied dissolved the chamber in July 2021 as part of a power grab allowing him to rule by decree in the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings more than a decade ago.

A Tunisian court last month handed Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi a one-year prison sentence on terrorism-related charges, which the party condemned as an “unjust political verdict”.

Ghannouchi and Atig are among more than 20 of Saied’s political opponents and personalities arrested since February, including former ministers and business figures.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies