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UN raps Tunisia over arrest of ex-justice minister

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The United Nations on Tuesday expressed concern over human rights abuses in Tunisia and demanded that a former justice minister held in a clampdown on the Islamist-inspired party Ennahda be either charged or freed.

Noureddine Bhiri, an MP and senior member of Ennahda, was bundled into a car by plainclothes police officers on December 31 and held in undisclosed locations for several hours.

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He was later accused of possible “terrorism” offences.

The 63-year-old, who suffers from several pre-existing health conditions, including diabetes and hypertension, was transferred to hospital on January 2 after going on hunger strike.

He remains in hospital, where he is under guard.

Former interior ministry official Fathi Baldi was also arrested on December 31 in similar circumstances. His whereabouts was kept secret for several days.

Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, said the shadowy circumstances of the men’s detention had deepened the UN’s “already serious concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation” in Tunisia.

She said the arrests “echo practices not seen since the (former president Zine El Abidine) Ben Ali era” and urged Tunisian authorities to either promptly release or charge the pair.

Tunisia was the only democracy to emerge from the 2011 Arab Spring revolts, in which Ben Ali was ousted, along with a handful of other Arab leaders.

Ennahda played a central role in the post-Ben Ali transition until a power grab by President Kais Saied in July last year.

Vowing to root out corruption, Saied sacked the Ennahda-supported government, suspended parliament -- in which the party is the largest bloc -- and later took steps to rule by decree.

His opponents and civil society groups have expressed fear of a slide back to the authoritarianism of Ben Ali’s rule.

Throssell said the UN was “concerned at the stifling of dissent in Tunisia, including through the improper use of counterterrorism legislation, and the increasing use of military courts to try civilians.”

But many Tunisians tired of a system seen as corrupt and ineffective have welcomed Saied’s actions.

Read more: Political parties banned from Tunisia state TV: Press syndicate

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