Tunisian security forces arrest MP critical of president

by Reuters
Friday, 30 July 2021 15:19 GMT

(TarekAdds details, background)

TUNIS, July 30 (Reuters) - Tunisian security forces on Friday raided the home of a member of parliament - a long-standing critic of President Kais Saied and the army - arresting him in front of family members, his wife said.

The arrest is likely to raise concerns over rights and freedoms in Tunisia after Saied on Sunday dismissed the prime minister, froze parliament for a month and said he was taking over executive authority.

The main parties in Tunisia's parliament accuse Saied of a coup, and the United States has urged respect for the constitution, calling on him to return the country "to the democratic path".

Yassin Ayari, who represents a small party in parliament, has frequently expressed criticism of Saied and the army, notably on his Facebook page.

Ayari's wife, Cyrine Fitouri, said by phone that around 20 men in plain clothes, who presented themselves as members of a presidential security unit, raided their home in the early afternoon on Friday and used violence as they detained him.

Neither the security forces nor representatives of the judiciary were immediately available for comment on his arrest.

"They took him forcefully while his mother was shouting," Fitouri said, adding that the security agents told his family not to film Ayari's arrest.

Ayari was sentenced in 2018 to three months in prison by a military court for defaming the army and was previously imprisoned for four months in 2015 on the same charge.

Saied on Thursday said he would uphold freedoms and rights of Tunisians, and leading civil society groups said he must uphold the constitution.

He has, however, lifted the immunity of parliament members, leaving them exposed to arrest for any existing cases against them and said he would take over public prosecutions.

His actions appear to have widespread popular support in Tunisia, where years of misgovernance, corruption, political paralysis and economic stagnation have been aggravated this year by a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases.

The judiciary, which has declared its political independence, said this week it had previously opened investigations into three political parties that have opposed Saied, and has now started investigations into several lawmakers. (Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Joe Bavier)

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