Tunisian police on Monday detained Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi, his party said, in a move that marks an escalation in a campaign of arrests that has already targeted numerous high-profile opponents of President Kais Saied.
The police raided Ghannouchi’s house on Monday evening, searching it before taking him to what the Islamist Ennahda called an “unknown destination”.
Police have this year detained leading political figures in Tunisia who accuse Saied of a coup for his moves to close the elected parliament in 2021 and move to rule by decree before rewriting the constitution.
The earlier arrests, that have led to charges of conspiring against state security, have drawn statements of concern from the U.S. and from rights groups.
A senior police official said Ghannouchi had been brought in for questioning and his house searched on the orders of the public prosecutor investigating “inciting statements”. A decision on next steps was with the prosecutor, the official said.
Ghannouchi had already faced repeated rounds of judicial questioning over the past year on charges relating to Ennahda’s finances and to allegations it helped Islamists travel to Syria for jihad, charges he and the party both deny.
The 81-year-old was a political prisoner in the 1980s and went into exile in the 1990s before returning during Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that brought democracy.
Under his leadership Ennahda moved towards the political centre, joining successive governing coalitions with secular parties and he became parliament speaker after the 2019 election.
Since Saied’s seizure of broad powers, which the president says was needed to save Tunisia from years of crisis, Ghannouchi has been the biggest political party leader to oppose him.