Tunisian judge orders release of two leading opponents of President Saied


A Tunisian judge has ordered the release of two prominent political opponents of President Kais Saied, who were arrested nearly five months ago on suspicion of plotting against state security. The lawyer representing Chaima Issa and Lazhar Akremi confirmed this news to the Reuters news agency.

Chaima Issa and Lazhar Akremi, along with 20 other political leaders, were detained in February as part of a government crackdown on the country’s opposition. The individuals were charged with “conspiracy against state security.” Issa, a leader in the Salvation Front, which is the main opposition coalition to Saied, has been actively involved in organizing protests against the President for the past two years. Akremi, a lawyer who previously served as a minister after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, has been a vocal critic of Saied’s policies.

The decision to release Issa and Akremi came after protests near the Tunisian court, where dozens of prisoners’ families gathered, holding up pictures of the detainees and demanding their freedom. Following her release, Issa chanted slogans against the coup and President Kais Saied. She emphasized that imprisoning dissidents would not solve Tunisia’s problems and called for an end to the injustice faced by other prisoners.

The defense team representing Issa and Akremi issued a statement confirming that the investigating judge had decided to release Issa and had responded to the defense committee’s request for the release of Lazhar Akremi. However, the judge rejected the team’s request for the release of other political opponents who are still in detention.

The arrests of these opposition leaders have been widely criticized by main opposition parties, who view them as politically motivated. Human rights groups have also urged the authorities to release the detainees. President Saied has consistently referred to them as “terrorists” and traitors, warning that judges who free them would be aiding their alleged crimes.

President Saied’s actions in freezing parliament and dismissing the government in July 2021, following the Arab Spring uprisings, triggered a political crisis in Tunisia. He ruled by decree from September 2021 to March 2023, citing the need to rescue the country from chaos and corruption.

Critics of Saied’s actions have labeled them as a “coup,” while human rights organizations have condemned what they describe as a “witch hunt” aimed at suppressing freedom of expression in the North African nation. In addition to the political turmoil resulting from Saied’s power grab, Tunisia is grappling with a severe financial crisis and is in dire need of foreign aid.

European parliamentarians voiced their opposition on Wednesday to any “unconditional agreement” between the European Union and Tunisia, citing concerns about the excesses committed by President Saied. They called on Tunisian authorities to release arbitrarily detained opponents, safeguard the rights of Tunisian citizens, and support their ongoing struggle for democracy.

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