Influential Tunisian Islamist leader Rached Ghannouchi was detained Monday after a police search, according to his lawyer, in a move denounced by his supporters as a stepped-up effort by the president to quash Tunisia’s opposition.
The move against the 81-year-old former parliament speaker comes amid growing social tensions and deepening economic troubles in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring pro-democracy movement more than a decade ago.
Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahdha party, is the most prominent critic of Tunisian President Kais Saied. While he has been detained for questioning in the past and released, his supporters described Monday’s action as a more serious step.
Police entered his house for a lengthy search and brought him to the El Aouina jail in the east of the capital, his lawyer Nejib Chebbi told The Associated Press.
Ennahdha called for his release, saying in a statement that it “condemns this very dangerous development.”
Tunisia’s official TAP news agency reported that he was detained on a warrant by counterterrorism prosecutors as part of an investigation into recent “provocative” comments. It did not elaborate.
Other Tunisian media reported that Ghannouchi was to be questioned over a video circulating online in which he purportedly says that the president’s perceived efforts to “eradicate” Islamist opposition threaten to unleash civil war.
Ghannouchi has been detained before for questioning on suspicion of money laundering and terrorism financing through a charity. He has denied wrongdoing and his party says the accusations are politically driven.
His daughter Yusra said her father had cooperated with police during past detentions and lamented that the president “ordered a raid on his house and his arrest after sundown during the most holy night of Ramadan.”
Islamist lawyer Ines Harrath questioned why he wasn’t summoned for questioning during normal working hours. “We are no longer living in a state of law,” she said. ”The current situation cannot last forever.”
Saied shut down the Ennahdha-led parliament in 2021 and has since moved to consolidate power amid growing public disillusionment with Tunisia’s democracy.