Tunisia releases ex-justice minister from house arrest

March 8, 2022
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A former justice minister and senior figure in Tunisia’s Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, under house arrest since December, was released Tuesday but remains under investigation on “terrorism” charges, the government said.

Noureddine Bhiri had been detained by plainclothes police officers on New Years’ Eve and placed under house arrest — as was Ennahdha staffer Fethi Baldi.

That came five months after President Kais Saied sacked the Ennahdha-backed government.

The 63-year-old Bhiri, who suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and a heart condition, had been on a hunger strike since he was detained.

He had agreed to undergo treatment for his hypertension at a hospital in the northern city of Bizerte, where he has been since the second day of his detention.

Ennahdha confirmed he had been released, publishing a video of Bhiri arriving by ambulance at his house in Tunis.

The party, which has repeatedly denied Bhiri’s involvement in “terrorism”, had warned multiple times his life was in danger.

Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine said Tuesday the men’s house arrest had “expired”, but added the judiciary would “complete the necessary enquiries and judicial measures on their cases”.

Their release came a day after Saied inaugurated a “temporary” council of judges, replacing an independent watchdog he abolished weeks ago, saying it had been “infiltrated” by Ennahdha.

The party has played a central role in Tunisian politics since the revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

But it has since become a principal target of Saied, who in July sacked the government and froze the Ennahdha-dominated parliament, later moving to rule by decree.

While some Tunisians, tired of a system seen as corrupt, have backed Saied’s moves, his opponents and civil society groups have voiced fears of a slide back to the authoritarianism of Ben Ali.