Tunisia, which gained its independence in 1956 and was ruled by dictatorial regimes from 1956 to 2011, overthrew the dictatorship of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 by way of a civil commotion known as the Tunisian Revolution, the Revolution of Dignity – also called the Jasmine Revolution. In 2011, the first elections were held in the country after peaceful protests by the Tunisian people forced Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to resign, having ruled the country via a dictatorship for 24 years. Then, the so-called “Arab Spring” period officially began as Tunisia initiated its own process of building freedom and democracy in a peaceful manner. In this new era, Rached Ghannouchi, who had been living in exile for many years, returned to Tunisia to help establish a “democratic” process within Tunisian politics – for the first time in its history – via his Ennahda Movement. As key actors in this new Tunisian era, the Ennahda Movement and its leader Ghannouchi adopted social-reconciliation methods to establish legal, political, economic, and social stability in Tunisia. They fought for stability in Tunisia by taking part in all the governments established from 2011 to 2019. 

Kais Saied was elected President of Tunisia with the support of Ennahda in the presidential election held in 2019. However, shortly after coming into power Kais Saied dismissed the then-prime-minister Hichem Mechichi, dissolved the parliament, inhibited MPs from entering parliament by removing their immunity, and drafted a new constitution to protect his power. This clearly indicates that, contrary to the achievements of the Tunisian Revolution, Tunisia has adopted an authoritarian approach in terms of its governance. In 2022, a new constitution was approved through a referendum, although it did not receive significant support from the Tunisian people. This new constitution consolidated all powers, including the judiciary, under Saied’s control. He began prosecuting and convicting opposition politicians, media personnel, journalists, activists, and legal professionals on unfounded allegations. Saied aims to suppress opposing voices through practices that disregard fundamental human rights, yet Western democratic countries remain silent in the face of such unlawful practices.

Nevertheless, many Western research institutions known for their global research on democratisation have expressed concerns and criticisms regarding the unlawful developments that took place in Tunisia in 2021 and beyond. Serious criticisms against the practices of Saied’s rule in Tunisia are highlighted in a report dated 2022 prepared by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor under the U.S. Department of State. In The Economist Intelligence Unit Index 2022, Saied’s unlawful actions in 2021 are described as a constitutional coup, indicating that Tunisia is increasingly transforming into an autocratic regime. In a 2023 report published by Freedom House, Tunisia is recorded as the third country experiencing the highest decline in democracy indexes. In the Democracy Report 2023: Defiance in the Face of Autocratization published by the V-Dem Institute, one of the leading democracy indexes, concerns about the current situation in Tunisia were also expressed, emphasising that Tunisian democracy is under serious threat. 

Saied’s most recent practice that can be described as unlawful is the arrest of Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the country’s largest political movement (Ennahda) and the dissolved speaker of the parliament – along with many other opponents – by detaining them during a night raid, using the law as a political weapon. There are serious concerns about the prison conditions and health status of Ghannouchi and other opponents who were arrested on the basis of unfounded legal claims. Tunisia is being led back to a dictatorial regime through such unlawful practices; if steps are not taken to stop such legal violations, there is a high likelihood that tensions in Tunisia will rise in the upcoming period. The international community must act, particularly against the unlawful practices targeting Ghannouchi and other opponent groups, by intervening to address these violations of the law. 

This report will examine the unlawful practices and detention actions against the opposition in Tunisia during the Kais Saied era, taking past developments into account as well. The report will emphasise how Saied brought Tunisia, which had achieved some democratic gains simultaneous to the process known as the ‘Arab Spring,’ back under the rule of an authoritarian regime. It will also highlight how he has subjected individuals perceived as opposition figures, particularly Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, to unlawful prosecution under conditions contrary to basic human rights with unfounded allegations. 

This Report is based on interviews conducted with Tunisian politicians, human rights activists, journalists, and relatives of unlawfully arrested opponents, also using open sources such as statements, government documents, and reports published in the mainstream press. The interviews were conducted through online platforms between June 11 and July 25, 2023. An unstructured and in-depth interview technique was adopted.