Geneva - Tunisian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release detained politician Sahbi Atigue and provide him with necessary medical care in light of his serious health deterioration during his ongoing hunger strike, said Euro-Med Monitor in a statement.

The country’s security forces prevented the Ennahda Movement’s leader, Sahbi Atigue, from travelling abroad on 6 May to attend a seminar. Security forces detained him on the basis of money laundering allegations, without providing any legal evidence to support the allegations. In response to his unjustified detention, Atigue declared an open-ended hunger strike on 12 May, after an official decision was issued to keep him detained.

Euro-Med Monitor highlighted the fact that Atigue’s detention is most likely based on his political affiliation, rather than any alleged money laundering activity. Upon examination of the case, Euro-Med Monitor found no evidence indicating that he was involved in the incident or committed any violation that would justify his arrest and detention. The money laundering case relates to the 2016 burglary of a house far from Atigue’s residence, in which two minors stole a sum of money; the homeowner recovered the stolen money at the time, and the case was settled. Atigue had no connection to the case, and his name was not mentioned in any of the case files.

   The detention of Sahbi Atigue on charges that appear to be fabricated is part of a pattern of arbitrary authoritarian practices that have affected dozens of Tunisian politicians, journalists, and activists   

Tunisia’s authorities have failed to provide evidence of Atigue’s involvement in the 2016 case. Notably, the testimonies from those involved in the incident, including security personnel who dealt with the case at the time, confirm that Atigue had nothing to do with it. Atigue’s wife Zainab informed the Euro-Med Monitor team that her husband’s health has reached a critical point, as he has been transferred multiple times from Mornaguia Prison to a hospital in the capital Tunis. She added that he was admitted to the Resuscitation Department a few days ago after his heart rate slowed dramatically, reaching below 30 beats per minute (well below the normal range of 60-100 bpm), which poses an imminent threat to his life.

“My husband’s body has completely collapsed, and he can no longer walk or even talk because his sugar and blood pressure levels have dropped drastically. He is constantly suffering from excruciating pain in his right kidney,” Zainab Atigue said. “The most serious problem remains the irregular heartbeat and the continuous decline in pulse; we fear losing him at any moment.”

The detention of Sahbi Atigue on charges that appear to be fabricated is part of a pattern of arbitrary authoritarian practices that have affected dozens of Tunisian politicians, journalists, and activists since President Kais Saied announced his exceptional measures in July 2021, disrupting the institutions of the government by granting himself broad powers. Saied’s actions were, and remain, completely inconsistent with the principles of democracy and good governance.

Over the past four months, Euro-Med Monitor has documented an escalation in the targeting of opponents in various ways by the Tunisian authorities. Those targeted include opposition politicians, judges, businessmen, and journalists, all of whom are detained on vague, broadly worded charges such as terrorism, money laundering, and conspiracy against the state. One journalist has even been unfairly punished with five years’ imprisonment.

Euro-Med Monitor held Tunisian authorities fully responsible for Sahbi Atigue’s health and life, emphasising that his detention is arbitrary, illegal, and unjustifiable under any circumstances. The organisation called for Tunisian authorities to release all detainees in cases involving liberties and political and party affiliations; cease all forms of targeting and prosecution of opponents and dissidents; respect the right of individuals to political participation and free expression; and follow constitutional directives in this regard.