Tunisian court jails lawmaker on corruption charges News

Mehdi Ben Gharbia is the latest opposition member amid growing concerns about civil rights.

A Tunisian lawmaker has been taken into custody after a court on Sunday ordered his arrest on charges of tax fraud and money laundering.

Mehdi Ben Gharbia, a businessman, former minister and secular opposition party Tahiya Tounas, was last seen as a member of parliament after President Qais Sayed withdrew his parliamentary immunity and seized control of the legal and executive powers.

Shortly after Syed fired the prime minister and adjourned parliament on July 25, Anwar Maruf, a senior official in the Islamist party Enadhar, was placed under house arrest on charges of abuse of power.

Former presidential candidate Nabil Karui, who was runner-up in Tunisia’s 2019 presidential election, was detained in Algeria on August 0 for “crossing the border illegally” with his brother.

Last month, a military judge issued arrest warrants against two Karama Party politicians, Nidal Saudi and Saif Eddin Makhluf. A few months before his arrest, he was in a Saudi jail for allegedly insulting security personnel at the airport. Makhlouf was briefly detained on charges of calling military judges “coups.”

Tunisian police arrested Alui Abdellatif, a member of parliament from the conservative religious Karama party, on charges of “conspiring against state security and insulting the army” while attending a program aired on the Zaitouna television station in October.

Fourteen arrest warrants were issued in August on charges of financial and administrative corruption in the phosphate sector. The former head of Tunisia’s anti-corruption committee was placed under house arrest and security forces took control of the commission’s headquarters.

Autocratic regime?

Many Tunisians have welcomed Sayed’s commitment to fighting corruption after years of economic stagnation and political paralysis.

Critics see Saeed’s political maneuvers as a coup that undermines the country’s democratic gains since the 2011 revolution.

The former university professor further strengthened his one-man rule on September 22 when he declared the power to rule by decree and ignored parts of the constitution.

He has vowed not to return Tunisia to authoritarian rule and has denied any involvement in the coup. Yet, he gave no indication of when he would relinquish his new powers.

Nazla Bowden Romdhane, a little-known university engineer working for the World Bank, was nominated as the country’s first female prime minister on September 2.

In a speech after the nomination, Bowden said “fighting corruption will be the most important goal of the new government.”

It has approved a new government made up of members elected by Saeed Bowden, many of whom come from academics and are new to the Tunisian political scene.

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