Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s opposition party Ennahda, has been sentenced to one year in prison by a Tunisian judge on Monday. Ghannouchi, the former house speaker, has been in pre-trial detention for over a month and was absent during the sentencing.
According to his party, the judge at the Tunis Court of First Instance handed down a one-year prison term and a fine of 1,000 Tunisian dinars ($326) for the “glorification of terrorism.” Ennahda expressed disappointment that the judge issued the verdict without hearing the defense presented by Ghannouchi’s lawyer.
The case revolves around a eulogy delivered by Ghannouchi at the funeral of an Ennahda party member in February 2021. In his speech, Ghannouchi referred to the deceased as someone who had fought for freedom, unafraid of poverty, rulers, or dictators. Ennahda has consistently denied the allegations against Ghannouchi and argued that the term “tyrant” was taken out of context, highlighting the late person’s peaceful struggle against the dictatorships of former presidents Bourguiba and Ben Ali.
In recent weeks, Tunisia has witnessed the arrest of numerous opposition figures, including members of the National Salvation Front and Ennahda, its main constituent. These arrests and prosecutions, which also targeted businessmen and journalists, have raised concerns from the United States, the European Parliament, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.
Tunisian President Kais Saied, who suspended Parliament in July 2021 and unilaterally enacted significant changes to the country’s political system, has repeatedly labeled those detained as terrorists. He has accused them, without providing evidence, of conspiring against Tunisia’s national security. Critics have accused Saied of interfering in the judiciary’s independence and utilizing his authority to influence investigations.
Who is Rached Ghannouchi?
Ghannouchi, a prominent Tunisian opposition leader, has been sentenced in absentia to one year in prison, according to his lawyer Monia Bouali. He was found guilty on charges of incitement on Monday. Ghannouchi, who held the position of speaker of the Tunisian parliament before its suspension, was arrested in late April on suspicion of plotting against state security.
Earlier this month, Ghannouchi refused to appear before the judiciary, dismissing the trials as politically motivated fabrications. Since the suspension of parliament, Saied has conducted a sweeping crackdown on the country’s opposition. Many opposition figures, including numerous members of Ghannouchi’s Ennahda Party, which was previously the largest in parliament, have been detained in recent months.
Saied, a former law professor who won the presidential election in 2019 amid public anger towards the political establishment, has granted himself extensive powers to govern and legislate by decree. He has also asserted control over the judiciary, which opponents view as a setback for democracy in the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
Critics argue that Saied’s actions have undermined Tunisia’s democratic achievements and pushed the country, which is also grappling with a severe economic crisis, toward a dangerous path of autocracy. Ghannouchi, who returned to Tunisia from exile to a warm reception in January 2011 following the departure of longtime leader President Ben Ali, played a pivotal role in the country’s political landscape. Ennahda emerged as the largest party in Tunisia’s first parliamentary elections after Ben Ali’s removal in October 2011, securing 37 percent of the vote.
It was only in 2019 that Ghannouchi assumed a leadership position within the government as the parliament speaker.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Hassene Dridi, File