TUNIS – Tunisian authorities jailed an opposition lawmaker Friday and briefly detained four members of the powerful Islamist movement Ennahdha in the wake of the president's decision to seize exceptional powers, according to Tunisian media reports.
The Ennahdha members were brought before investigating magistrates and accused of trying to incite violence outside the parliament building after President Kais Saied's announcement Sunday, according to party official Riadh Chaidi.
The four were questioned but later released for lack of proof of violence, Chaidi told The Associated Press.
The president suspended parliament, lifted the immunity of parliament members, fired the prime minister and took control of the executive branch. He said the move was necessary to save the country amid public anger at the government over joblessness, rising prices and one of Africa’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.
But Saied’s decision raised concerns about Tunisia’s young democracy. Critics — most notably Ennahdha — accused him of a coup. Ennahdha has been a major player in Tunisian legislative elections since the country’s 2011 revolution, which unleashed the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.
The next day, Ennahdha supporters skirmished with backers of the president outside parliament, but the crowd was eventually dispersed by police.
Among those detained Friday were the bodyguard of Ennahdha leader and parliament speaker Rachid Ghannouchi, his protocol officer and a member of the party’s advisory council.
The four were accused of inciting people from a working-class neighborhood close to parliament to bring sticks to carry out acts of violence during the rally, according to the official TAP news agency.
“There was no link with violence,” said Chaidi, a member of the party's executive bureau. “Violence is not a choice of Ennahdha.”
He sought to minimize the detentions, and played down concerns that they were a sign of a government crackdown singling out his party.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke Saturday with Tunisia's president and conveyed President Joe Biden’s strong support for the people of Tunisia and for Tunisian democracy, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a White House press release.
“In this spirit, the call focused on the critical need for Tunisian leaders to outline a swift return to Tunisia’s democratic path,” the press release said. “National Security Advisor Sullivan underscored that this will require rapidly forming a new government, led by a capable prime minister to stabilize Tunisia’s economy and confront the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as ensuring the timely return of the elected parliament.”
Also Friday, outspoken legislator Yassine Ayari was arrested outside his home, according to a Facebook post by his party, the Hope and Action Movement.
His lawyer Mokhtar Jemai said Ayari was apparently arrested in connection with a June 30 court conviction, but was not informed of the reason for conviction. Ayari has spoken out against the military and the government and faced legal problems in the past, but no longer enjoys parliamentary immunity because of the president's decisions.
On Thursday, the president named a new interior minister, his first major appointment since the shakeup. Ridha Gharsallaoui, a former national security adviser to the presidency, will now head the Interior Ministry, which oversees domestic security, including policing.