People holding signs and Tunisian flags to show support for Ennahdha Movement leader Rached Ghannouchi who is about to be questioned about a number of complaints submitted by security personnel, according to what was confirmed by leaders in the Ennahda Movement in front of the Anti-Terrorism Judicial Pole at Charguia on 21 February 2023

Tunisia: Ghannouchi sentencing marks aggressive crackdown on Saied opposition

A Tunisian court’s decision to sentence opposition figure Rached Ghannouchi to prison under Tunisia’s anti-terrorism law highlights an intensifying campaign against the country’s largest party, which comes as part of a crackdown on dissidents and perceived critics of President Kais Saied, Amnesty International said today. 

On 15 May, Tunisia’s anti-terrorism court gave Ghannouchi, the leader of the opposition Ennahda party, a one-year prison sentence and a fine in connection with public remarks made at a funeral last year.

“Tunisian authorities are increasingly using repressive, vaguely-worded laws as a pretext for repression and to arrest, investigate and in some cases prosecute dissidents and opposition figures. The sentencing of Rashed Ghannouchi shows a growing crackdown on human rights and opposition and a deeply worrying pattern,” said Rawya Rageh, Amnesty International’s acting deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“To sentence the leader of the country’s largest party based on public remarks he made a year ago – merely exercising his right to freedom of expression – is another indication of the political motivations behind these ongoing prosecutions.”

On 22 February 2022, Ghannouchi made remarks at a funeral in which he praised the deceased as a “courageous man” who did not fear “a ruler or tyrant”. In a 15 May ruling, Tunisia’s anti-terrorism court sentenced Ghannouchi based on these remarks, said lawyer Zeineb Brahmi, a member of Ghannouchi’s legal defence team and the head of Ennahda’s legal office.

Ghannouchi is being investigated in various other criminal cases, but this is the first sentence against him since the 2011 revolution. The court sentenced Ghannouchi under Article 14 of Tunisia’s 2015 anti-terrorism law, which mandates up to life in prison or the death penalty, depending on exact circumstances, for statements that promote religious hatred. According to members of Ghannouchi’s legal defence team, they were not notified of a hearing or imminent sentencing.

Police had arrested Ghannouchi, 81, on 17 April for a separate “conspiracy against the state” case. A judge is investigating him and at least 11 others under a law that mandates the death penalty for “trying to change the nature of the state” based partly on public remarks by Ghannouchi on 15 April. The judge has also remanded Ghannouchi and two other suspects in the case to pre-trial detention.

The sentencing of Rashed Ghannouchi shows a growing crackdown on human rights and opposition and a deeply worrying pattern.

Rawya Rageh, Amnesty International

On 18 April, authorities began an extensive search of the Ennahda party’s headquarters in Tunis and according to a party statement barred meetings from being held in offices across the country. 

Since claiming emergency powers in 2021, President Saied has issued decree-laws and adopted a constitution that give him influence over the judiciary, including the power to dismiss judges summarily. He has also issued decree-laws mandating heavy prison sentences based on ambiguous terms such as “fake news” and “rumours”.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights both of which Tunisia has ratified, guarantee the right to freedom of expression. Article 9 of the ICCPR and Article 7 of the African Charter also obligate Tunisian authorities to respect the right to a fair trial.