Tunisia: The Case of Mr. Rached Ghannouchi, speaker of the Tunisian Parliament, submitted to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention


On 5 December 2023, the Association of Victims of Torture in Tunisia (AVTT) and Alkarama submitted to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, the situation of Mr. Rached GHANNOUCHI, speaker of the Tunisian Parliament and leader of the opposition political movement, Ennahda, sentenced on 15 May, to one year in prison under the pretext of "apology for terrorism". 

Political and judicial persecution of opponents 

Since 25 July 2021, police and judicial persecution against opponents of the July 2021 coup has multiplied across the country. The Tunisian authorities have particularly intensified their attacks on members of the country's main political party, Ennahda, and its leaders, who strongly reject violations of the Tunisian constitution and the emergency measures decreed by President Kais Saied. 

Since December 2022, agents of the Ministry of Interior have arrested at least 17 members or former members of this party, including, most recently, Mr. Rached GHANNOUCHI, founder and president of the party and speaker of the now-dissolved parliament. 

A prominent political figure, Mr. Ghannouchi had been particularly targeted by the police since he strongly condemned the coup d'état and advocated a return to constitutional legality and democracy. Since then, he has been the subject of a multitude of police investigations under various pretexts, including because of his political stances and his public statements to various local and foreign media. 

Thus, over the past 18 months, the octogenarian has been questioned in more than a dozen police proceedings, most of which were dismissed when they were submitted to the prosecutor's office because of their total inconsistency. However, these dismissal decisions have aroused the anger of political circles hostile to Ennahda and close to President Kais Saied, as well as the security services. 

Arrest of the speaker of Parliament 

Thus, on 17 April 2023 and only a few minutes before the breaking of the Ramadan fast, more than fifty plainclothes agents burst into Mr. GHANNOUCHI's home to brutally arrest him in the absence of any warrant. He was then taken to an unknown destination and was deprived of all contact with the outside world and his lawyers in particular for 48 hours. 

Two days later, on 19 April 2023, Mr. GHANNOUCHI reappeared at the National Guard barracks in El Aouina. On that day, he was brought before the investigating judge at the Court of First Instance in Tunis where he was questioned at length about his public statements during a meeting criticizing the marginalization of opposition political parties, whether left-wing parties or Ennahda, claiming that it would constitute a "civil war project." 

After more than nine hours of questioning, the investigating judge finally ordered his detention on the pretext that these statements constituted "acts aimed at changing the form of the state, inciting people to arm themselves against each other, and provoking disorder, murder and looting on Tunisian territory." Accused by the official media and supporters of the coup of inciting the Tunisian people to "civil war", Mr. Ghannouchi was incarcerated in Mornaguia prison where he is currently detained. 

A first conviction at the instigation of police unions 

Already, in February 2023, Mr. GHANNOUCHI had been summoned and heard by the anti-terrorism judicial unit after a defamation complaint was filed by a police union. The latter had interpreted the funeral oration delivered a few days earlier by the octogenarian, in tribute to one of the leaders of the Ennahda movement, about whom he had said that he "feared neither the powerful nor tyrants", as an insult to the security apparatus. Although Mr. GHANNOUCHI was released as part of the proceedings, he was unexpectedly sentenced on 15 May 2023 to one year in prison by the Anti-Terrorism Court. 

Accused of allegedly "inciting Tunisians to kill each other", Mr Ghannouchi was convicted in absentia, on the basis of Article 14 of  the 2015 Law on the Fight against Terrorism, without ever having had the opportunity to be legally represented, as his lawyers were not informed of the hearing. On 30 October 2023, the Tunis Court of Appeal upheld the judgement while increasing the prison sentence to fifteen months. 

UN experts seized of the situation 

Concerned by the deprivation of liberty of Mr. GHANNOUCHI due to his statements as well as his conviction for "glorification of terrorism" in the context of a previous procedure marred by serious irregularities and violations of fundamental rights, the AVTT and Alkarama submitted his case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions on 5 December 2023. 

The two associations demonstrated that the arrest and detention of the Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament is a direct result of the peaceful use of his rights to freedom of expression and opinion, as he was deprived of his liberty solely on the pretext of his public political positions, without it being demonstrated in any way that his statements could be interpreted as calls for violence. 

The Tunisian authorities have in no way demonstrated that the arrest and subsequent deprivation of liberty of Mr. Ghannouchi was necessary, as his public statements could clearly not be interpreted as constituting a threat to national security or public order. 

The two NGOs recalled that Mr. Ghannouchi was only questioned about the remarks he made during a public meeting during which he expressed his fear that the marginalization of opposition political movements, of all tendencies, could constitute a "project for civil war". These statements were used by the authorities to accuse him of terrorism without any further detailed evidence being presented in support of these serious charges. It should also be noted that the offices of the Ennahda Party, the country's largest political party, were illegally closed throughout the national territory by the intelligence services on the simple decision of President Kais Saied following the arrest of Mr. Ghannouchi. 

A prominent political figure in the country, Mr. Ghannouchi was targeted by the authorities for criticizing the violation of the Tunisian Constitution and the excesses of President Kais Saied. 

Since the coup d'état on 25 July, he has publicly denounced a wide range of human rights violations and advocated the need for a return to the rule of law. His deprivation of liberty took place in a context of repression and a wave of arrests against many other dissident figures, particularly from the Ennahda movement.