By Kit Roberts
HUMAN Rights Watch has called on the Tunisian President Kaid Saied to release former government ministers from detention after an ‘abduction-style detention’.
Former Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri and former employee of the Interior Ministry Fethi Beldi have both been detained since December 31.
Plain clothes officers arrested Bhiri outside his Tunis home on December 31 without showing him an arrest warrant, with the whereabouts of the former Justice Minister only being made public when he was rushed to hospital on January 2 under police guard.
Beldi was also arrested on December 31 under similar conditions, and his whereabouts have yet to be revealed.
The arrests come amid growing concern over President Saied after he sacked the Tunisian prime minister and suspended the parliament.
Critics have accused Saied of undermining democracy in Tunisia, which remains the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring with a democratic constitution.
Acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch Eric Goldstein has condemned the detentions as evidence of a ‘growing threat to human rights’ in the country.
He said: “The abduction-style detention of Noureddine Bhiri and Fathi Beldi demonstrates the growing threat to human rights protections since President Saied’s power grab last July.
“The authorities should free Bhiri and Beldi now or, if they have evidence of an actual crime, charge them under the law. It’s that simple.”
He added: “The authorities have bypassed the judiciary to detain a prominent figure in the party most critical of the president’s power grab.
“It cannot help but further intimidate those who dare oppose the president’s seizure of power.”
No formal charges have so far been disclosed against Bhiri, however the Interior Ministry gave a statement about two people detained under a 1978 emergency decree, which is likely to refer to Bhiri and Beldi.
Bhiri has previously served as Justice Minister between 2011 and 2013, and is also the vice-president of Ennahdha, which is the largest party in the Tunisian parliament.
Ennahdha has previously condemned Saied’s suspension of parliament as a ‘coup’ and demanded that the suspension be lifted.
Bhiri has been allowed to receive a visit from his wife while in hospital, where he had reportedly refused all food and medication.
However, police have not allowed him visits from any of his lawyers.
Bhiri is the most high-profile figure to have been detained since Saied suspended parliament, however another Ennahdha party member, executive committee member Anouar Maarouf, was placed under house arrest for around three months in 2021.
Redaction Report has contacted the Tunisian embassy for a comment.