Tunisian police have arrested the country’s main opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi and raided the headquarters of his Ennahda party, which is often described as “moderate Islamist.”
Police raided Ghannouchi’s house on Monday evening before taking him to an unknown destination. Hours later, they began a raid on Ennahda’s headquarters in Tunis.
Munther Al-Wansi, Vice President of the Ennahda Movement, told Ruptly news agency: “The decision to arrest the President of the Ennahda Movement, Rached Ghannouchi, was abrupt and totally unexpected during the Iftar of the 27th of the Holy Month of Ramadan. We don’t know exactly what the security forces and political authority really want.
“Large numbers of security officers, who identified themselves as the special division of the National Guard, raided and thoroughly inspected the house at Iftar time. They took Rached Ghannouchi to an unknown destination even though they told his family and lawyers that he will be transferred to the National Guard HQ in El Aouina. Once the family members and lawyers arrived at El Aouina, they denied Mr Ghannouchi was in their custody for two hours.
“So far, Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi has not been officially charged, and has been denied a meeting with his lawyer. Currently, the lawyers are waiting for permission to speak with their client.”
Al-Wansi added: “Last night, around 70 security officers came and demanded the closure of the [Ennahda Movement] HQ. At first, they didn’t have an official order for the closure. After we denied them access to the HQ, they obtained a legal order signed by the Public Prosecution. We stayed together until 4 am, in the presence of the Assistant Public Prosecutor, to examine the HQ before it was sealed off. Since then, they are inspecting the HQ and the offices.”
A senior police official told Reuters news agency that Ghannouchi had been brought in for questioning and his house searched on the orders of the public prosecutor investigating “inciting statements.” A decision on the next steps was with the prosecutor, the official added.
And Tunisia’s official TAP news agency reported that Ghannouchi had been detained on a warrant by counterterrorism prosecutors as part of an investigation into recent “provocative” comments. It did not elaborate.
Tunisian authorities have detained a number of high-profile critics of President Kais Saied in recent years as the country moves towards dictatorship once again. In 2021 Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament before moving to rule by decree and eventually taking control of the judiciary.
Ghannouchi has already faced repeated rounds of judicial questioning over the past year on charges relating to Ennahda’s finances and allegations it enabled Tunisians to leave the country and join ISIS as well as other armed groups after longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was removed from power in 2011.
Ghannouchi was a political prisoner in the 1980s and went into exile in London the 1990s before returning during Tunisia’s democratic revolution.
After the revolution, Ennahda won the largest share of the vote in the country’s first free elections, and Ghannouchi became the Speaker of the Constituent Assembly.
Throughout his career Ghannouchi has promoted a “moderate” form of political Islam and has been a vocal advocate for democracy, human rights and social justice.
Under his leadership, Ennahda has moved towards the political centre, joining successive governing coalitions with secular parties.
Ennahda remains one of the most prominent political parties in Tunisia and continues to shape the country’s political landscape.