TUNISIAN OPPOSITION LAWMAKER YASSIN AL-AYARI HANDED PRISON SENTENCE FOR ‘DEMORALIZING ARMY’

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A detained Tunisian lawmaker who is a vociferous critic of President Kais Saied will serve two months in jail after being convicted of “demoralizing the army,” according to the country’s military judiciary.

Yassin al-Ayari was detained on Friday at his house in Tunis, his aide, Amin al-Jamal, told dpa.

His detention came days after Saied stripped all members of parliament of immunity, part of extraordinary measures condemned by the president’s opponents as a coup.

Tunisian news agency TAP on Saturday, citing the military judiciary, said a military court in 2018 issued a final two-month sentence against al-Ayari for “participating in an act aimed to wreck the army’s morale.”

The judiciary did not give details about the nature of the act.

Lawyers for al-Ayari said they did not know he was wanted by the judiciary, nor about any trial dates.

The Islamist Ennahda movement, which called Saied’s steps a “coup,” condemned al-Ayari’s arrest.

“Parliamentarian Yassin al-Ayari’s arrest is a negative message inside and outside Tunisia about the future of public freedoms in the country,” Ennahda, Tunisia’s largest political party, said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch also slammed the lawmaker’s arrest.

“The arrest of the blogger and parliamentarian Yassine Ayari and the interrogation of Ennahda members for allegedly fomenting violence confirms fears that, when President Saied seized extraordinary powers, he would use them against his critics,” said Eric Goldstein, the watchdog’s acting Middle East and North Africa director

Tunisia has been widely seen as the sole democratic success story of the Arab uprisings.

The country has been in turmoil since Saied, an ex-law professor, invoked a series of extraordinary measures last week, including sacking the prime minister.

Saied defended his divisive moves, saying they were in line with the constitution and promised to safeguard freedoms and rights.

On Saturday, a senior judge, with alleged links to Ennahda, was put under house arrest, a Tunisian broadcaster reported.

A security force enforced an order late on Friday to put judge Bashir al-Akrami under house arrest for 40 days, a sentence that could be renewed, Mosaique FM radio reported.

The order was issued by Ridha Gharsallaoui, whom Saied appointed on Thursday to run the Interior Ministry, added the broadcaster without giving an explanation.

Lawyers and rights activists have repeatedly accused al-Akrami of collusion to obstruct investigations into terrorism-related cases, including the 2013 assassinations of two secular politicians.

Al-Akrami’s critics also accuse him of being Ennahda‘s man in the judiciary, a claim denied by the Islamist party.

So far, there has been no comment from authorities.

In recent months, Saied, who took office in 2019, has been locked in a political dispute over the powers of the government and parliament.