Tunisian opposition leader Ghannouchi begins hunger strike in prison

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Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s main opposition party Ennahda and the former speaker of the parliament, has started a three-day hunger strike in prison, his party announced on Friday. Ghannouchi, 82, has been in jail since last April on charges of incitement and plotting against state security, which he and his supporters deny.

Ghannouchi is a vocal critic of President Kais Saied, who dissolved the parliament and dismissed the government in July 2021, in what the opposition called a coup. Saied has since ruled by decree and arrested dozens of political figures, journalists, activists and judges.

Ghannouchi’s hunger strike is in solidarity with other political prisoners, especially Jaouher Ben Mbarek, the head of the opposition coalition National Salvation Front, who began his own hunger strike four days ago. Ben Mbarek has been in pre-trial detention for more than seven months, his lawyer said.

The Ennahda party said in a statement that Ghannouchi’s hunger strike is aimed at “demanding the release of all political prisoners and ending the injustice against them”. It also held the authorities responsible for “any harm caused to the health and safety of the prisoners on hunger strike”.

Ghannouchi was sentenced in absentia to one year in prison in May, as he refused to appear before the judiciary, rejecting what he said were fabricated political trials. He was arrested on 17 April on the orders of a Tunisian judge and was under investigation by authorities for money laundering and incitement to violence.

Ghannouchi’s arrest has sparked international condemnation and calls for his release from hundreds of influential figures from across the Arab and Muslim world. Amnesty International has also decried Saied’s crackdown as “a politically motivated witch hunt”.

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