Rights groups have intensified calls on the Tunisian authorities to release judges and prosecutors arrested since last year.
Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani travelled to Tunisia on Monday amid calls for restraint in Tunis.
According to Qatar’s state news agency (QNA), Sheikh Khalid is attending this year’s session of the Arab Interior Ministers Council.
The Qatari official was welcomed by his Tunisian counterpart Najla Romdhane as well as other diplomats from the North African country.
While no further details were disclosed over the Qatari official’s visit, it comes shortly after an exchange of messages between Doha and Tunis in light of the latest political developments in the North African country.
On 10 February, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Tunisia’s President Kais Saied held a phone call in which they discussed bilateral ties.
The call came while Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister for Regional Affairs Dr. Mohammed Al-Khulaifi was in the country.
“In a call with H.H the Amir of Qatar, President [Saied] expresses gratitude for the sending of Qatari Assistant FM for Regional Affairs and for the Qatari readiness to stand by the Tunisian people in the face of financial difficulties,” the Tunisian Presidency’s statement read.
It added that the Qatari envoy delivered an oral message from the amir, though no further details were disclosed.
The latest communication between Qatar and Tunisia comes amid an increase in mass arrests targeting politicians, media figures and activists in Tunisia, raising concerns over human rights in the country.
Earlier in February, Tunisian police detained Noureddine Bhiri, a senior Ennahda official, after raiding his residence and assaulting his wife. In another raid, the police also arrested the head of opposition radio, Mosaique FM, Noureddine Boutar.
Rights groups have raised concerns over the deteriorating situation in Tunisia, with Amnesty saying at least 10 people have been detained in a single week.
“Arresting people on vague claims of conspiracy flies in the face of basic human rights. This latest round of arrests is a deliberate attempt to quash dissent including criticism of the president,” Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said.
Morayef added that “authorities should focus instead on finding real solutions to help alleviate the suffering of those hit hard by Tunisia’s crumbling economy.”
According to Amnesty, Tunisian authorities “have arrested, investigated or prosecuted at least 32 people in relation to their peaceful criticism” since 2021’s events.
On Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Tunisian authorities to “immediately reinstate judges and prosecutors” that have been “arbitrarily dismissed” by Saied.
“These blows to judicial independence reflect the government’s determination to subjugate prosecutors and judges to the executive branch, at the expense of Tunisians’ right to a fair trial before independent and impartial judges,” Salsabil Chellali, Tunisia director at HRW, said.
Since coming into power, Saied has been accused of a power coup for suspending parliament, sacking the prime minister and appointing himself general prosecutor.
However, the president claims his decisions were legal and were necessary to resolve Tunisia’s state.
At the time, Tunisian security forces stormed Al Jazeera’s office in Tunis and expelled journalists from the premises. Qatar’s foreign ministry had also called on all parties involved in Tunisia’s political crisis to avoid escalation and engage in dialogue.
Tunisia’s economic situation worsened in the aftermath of the 2011 protests, which saw the overthrow of former leader Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. The Covid-19 outbreak coupled with the Russian war on Ukraine have also affected the crises-hit country.