Tunisia detains critic of president, says lawyer

Plainclothes security officers in Tunis detained a prominent critic of President Kais Saied in the early hours of Saturday after a ruling by a military court, his lawyer told Agence France-Presse.

Seifeddine Makhlouf had been found guilty of insulting the police during a confrontation at the Tunis airport in March 2021.

Makhlouf, the leader of the nationalist Islamist Al-Karama party, shouted “down with the coup” and “long live Tunisia” before being thrown into a car, according to a Facebook video posted by the lawyer.

Rights groups say military trials of civilians have become increasingly common in Tunisia since Saied seized power.

Tunisia’s military court of appeals on Friday sentenced Makhlouf to 14 months in prison with immediate effect, his lawyer Ines Harrath told AFP.

A court had initially sentenced him to five months in prison.

“About 25 plainclothes officers surrounded his house at 11 p.m.,” Harrath said.

After a two-hour standoff, “they went into the house and he went with them.”

Makhlouf has been a prominent critic of Saied, who in July 2021 froze parliament and seized far-reaching executive powers in what critics have called a “coup” and an attack on the only democracy to emerge from the Spring uprisings. Arabic for over a decade. behind.

Saied later seized control of the judiciary and pushed through a new constitution that gave his charge nearly unlimited powers.

FILE – Tunisian supporters carry a portrait of President Kais Saied as they take to the streets to support him during opposition protests in Tunis, Tunisia, January 14, 2023.

Makhlouf in March 2021 led a group of Al-Karama MPs to the Tunis airport in an attempt to force authorities to lift a travel ban against a woman who was prevented from boarding her flight, prompting a confrontation that was widely shared online.

The court also sentenced several other Al-Karama members and a lawyer to shorter prison terms on Friday, but they were not immediately detained.

The head of the opposition National Salvation Front alliance told reporters on Saturday that the rulings reflected “a revenge mentality.”

“We are seeing the killing of freedoms and the destruction of democracy,” said Ahmed Nejib Chebbi. “There is a desire to behead the leadership of the civil and political opposition.”

A statement on the president’s Facebook late on Friday called for efforts to “target all the corrupt and those who believe they are above the law.”

Makhlouf was also given a one-year suspended prison sentence last February for “attacking the dignity of the army” after losing his parliamentary immunity following Saied’s takeover.

He was also banned from working as a lawyer for five years.

A military court upheld the one-year prison sentence in June, but his lawyer in that case said he would appeal.

“Trying civilians in military courts is an attack on freedoms,” Harrath said. “This case is related to the defendants’ positions on Kais Saied.”

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