Detained Tunisian ex-justice minister Noureddine Bhiri of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, who is refusing food or medication after his transfer to hospital, is suspected of “terrorism”, the interior minister said Monday.
Bhiri, deputy president of Ennahdha — viewed by President Kais Saied as an enemy — was arrested by plainclothes officers Friday and his whereabouts were initially unknown.
Ennahdha had played a central role in Tunisian politics until a power grab by President Kais Saied last year.
Tunisia was the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring revolts of a decade ago, but civil society groups and Saied’s opponents have expressed fear of a slide back to authoritarianism a decade after the revolution that toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
“There were fears of acts of terrorism targeting the country’s security and we had to act,” Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine said late Monday of the arrest.
A member of a delegation that visited Bhiri in hospital told AFP on Monday that he was refusing food or medication.
On Sunday activists and a former Ennahdha legislator said Bhiri was in a critical condition and facing death.
But the source told AFP that Bhiri, 63, is “not in critical condition for the time being”.
The source, asking not to be named, said that a joint team from Tunisia’s independent anti-torture group INPT and the United Nations rights commission visited Bhiri at the hospital in the northern town of Bizerte on Sunday.
He is “lively and lucid”, and being kept under close observation in a private room of the hospital’s cardiology ward.