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Imprisoned Tunisian Opposition Leader Begins Hunger Strike Protesting Arbitrary Detentions

Rached Ghannouchi, the 82-year-old head of the Tunisian opposition movement Ennahda, began a hunger strike on Monday to protest the imprisonment of opposition activists in Tunisia and show solidarity with fellow inmates, according to his defense team.

Imed Khemiri, his political party’s spokesperson, told the press that Ghannouchi’s hunger strike is intended to draw attention to the conditions in which Tunisia’s political prisoners are kept and the violations of their rights.

He stated that the purpose is “to demand the restoration of democracy” in the North African country that is now legendary for the massive people’s protests that sparked the so-called “Arab Spring” 13 years ago.

Political leaders Jawhar Ben Mbarek and Issam Chebbi of the National Salvation Front (FSN), the main opposition alliance, are among a number of political prisoners currently engaged in hunger strikes. They started their hunger strikes eight days ago to advocate for their release.

The detainees have criticized the government for intimidating political opponents and levying arbitrary charges against them. Similar protests occurred in September when several figures, who are now on hunger strike, had previously staged a protest.

Most of the detained opposition members are facing charges of “conspiracy against the security of the state.”

Ghannouchi, a long-time rival of President Kais Saied, was sentenced to three years in prison in early February having been convicted of unlawful “foreign financing of his party.” This came after a one-year prison sentence for “apology of terrorism,” which was increased to 15 months on appeal last October.

Ghannouchi’s statement at the funeral of an Ennahda official in early 2022, that he “feared neither the powerful nor the tyrants,” was construed to refer to the police, according to a complaint from a police union.

Since February 2023, over 20 individuals, including opposition members and businessmen, have been designated “terrorists” by President Saied and imprisoned on charges of “conspiring against internal security.”