Tunisia arrests politician hostile to president

Tunis (AFP) –


Tunisian authorities on Friday detained Seifeddine Makhlouf, according to a lawyer for the controversial parliamentarian who is bitterly opposed to President Kais Saied.

A video published on the Facebook page of Makhlouf's lawyer and widely shared online appeared to show the head of the ultraconservative Islamist-nationalist party Al-Karama being bundled into a car by plain-clothes officers in central Tunis.

Makhlouf had been on his way to a military court in Tunis with his lawyers, according to a separate video the MP published shortly before his reported detention.

He has been facing military court investigation since Saied on July 25 sacked the government, suspended parliament, removed lawmakers' immunity and made himself head of the prosecution.

Makhlouf, whose party is allied to the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha, has been wanted by the military court since September 2 over an altercation at Tunis airport in March.

He and two other Al-Karama MPs are accused of insulting border police officers who had prevented a woman from flying.

Makhlouf earlier on Friday published a video online saying he was heading with his lawyers to hand himself in to the court in Tunis.

"We are not afraid of the military court but we reject coups d'etat which use military justice to settle scores against opponents," he said.

His lawyer Anouar Ouled Ali told AFP that "as soon as he arrived at the court, plain-clothes police offices ran towards Seifeddine, forced him to the ground and then forced him into a civilian vehicle".

Ouled Ali's video of the scene, shared widely on social media, showed a man attempting to free himself from five men, who forced him into a grey car.

A spokesman for the interior ministry, which is in charge of the police, was not immediately available for comment.

"What happened is extremely serious and unprecedented," said Ouled Ali. "Seifeddine Makhlouf was kidnapped by a police militia."

Following the president's July 25 move, independent MP Yassine Ayari, another harsh Saied critic, was arrested and also faces military court charges for "insulting the army" on social media.

Activists in Tunisia and abroad have harshly criticised such military trials, which have sparked fears that rights achieved since the North African country's 2011 revolution are being rolled back.