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Imprisoned Tunisian opposition leader begins hunger strike

Tunisian opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi began a hunger strike in prison on Monday, joining other government critics striking to protest what they see as unjust incarceration.

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Imed Khemiri, the spokesperson for his political party, told The Associated Press on Monday that Ghannouchi’s strike intended to draw attention to the plight of Tunisia’s political prisoners and the violations of their freedoms. He said the strike was “to demand a return to democracy” in the North African nation known for the protests that kicked off the Arab Spring 13 years ago.

Rached Ghannouch

Leader of the Ennahdha party, Rached Ghannouchi, speaks to the media after he was freed by the Tunisias anti-terrorism unit in Tunis, Tunisia, Tuesday, July 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi, File)

Ghannouchi, 82, co-founded and leads Ennahda, the Islamist party that ascended to power in Tunisia after the country toppled then-President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. He was sentenced earlier this month to three years in prison on charges related to foreign financing of Ennahda’s 2019 political campaigns.

Ghannouchi was arrested last April as part of a broader crackdown against political opponents of President Kais Saied and has refused to appear in court to face charges that his lawyers have described as “unfounded and politically motivated.”

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Six other Saied critics who’ve been imprisoned since Feb. 23 as part of an investigation into a “conspiracy against state security” began hunger striking last week. All but one whose doctor recommended they suspend striking have continued, their families said in a joint statement.

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