Tunisian Police have arrested Habib Louz and Sadok Chourou, the two senior officials belonging to the country’s main opposition party Ennahda, according to a party official.
Since last month, police have detained around 20 political figures, including prominent critics of President Kais Saied, two judges, an influential businessman and the owner of local radio, on suspicion of plotting against state security.
The United States on Thursday condemned what it called an “escalating pattern” of arrests in Tunisia of opposition figures and expressed concern over reports that people who were in contact with US diplomats in Tunis were being targeted.
“We are alarmed by reports of criminal charges against individuals in Tunisia resulting from meetings or conversations with US embassy staff on the ground,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
Mr Price said the alleged criminal charges were part of “an escalating pattern of arrests against perceived critics of the government.”
He refused to identify any of the people believed to have been targeted, nor did he offer any details about their meetings with US diplomats, but said any such meetings were legitimate.
“The primary role for any US embassy, for any diplomat anywhere in the world, is to meet a wide array of individuals to inform our understanding of the different views and perspectives in that country,” Mr Price said.
On Tuesday, Tunisia’s Foreign Ministry reminded diplomats to “not interfere” in the country’s internal affairs, following reports that political figures who have been arrested had prior contact with Western diplomats.
In response to the recent arrests, Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi called on his party supporters to hold a peaceful protest on Sunday.
“[Ennahda] calls on its supporters and all the active forces in the country to demonstrate peacefully on Sunday, March 5, on Al Thawra Street, and denounces attempts to unlawfully harass and sow confusion on the part of the governor of the city of Tunis,” Mr Ghannouchi tweeted on Thursday.
Overnight on Thursday, Tunisian authorities confirmed they had banned a protest by the country’s main opposition coalition, saying that senior members who were recently arrested were suspected of high crimes against the state.
Mr Ghannouchi had been questioned twice since December over allegations that he referred to the country’s police as “tyrants” and demonised them during a eulogy last February.