January 31, 2023

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Tunisian leader of the Islamist movement Rached Ghannouchi was allowed to return home on Tuesday after a trial in a money laundering investigation that his party denounces Ennahda as a political ploy.

The preliminary hearing before an investigating judge lasted nearly 10 hours and followed warnings from activists that authorities were considering arresting 81-year-old Ghannouchi for pre-trial detention.

However, a lawyer for Ghannouchi and a party official from Ennahda said the judge had released him pending further investigation.

The hearing comes less than a week before President Kais Saied holds a referendum on a new constitution that would significantly expand his powers, a move that Ennahda and many other parties have rejected as illegal.

About 200 people gathered in court shouting “Down with the coup”, referring to Saied’s takeover, and “Ghannouchi, you are not alone”. They raised banners that read ‘stop political processes’ and celebrated after his release.

A court official told Reuters that the judge is investigating suspicions of money laundering involving foreign funds paid to an Ennahda-affiliated association. Local media also reported that he would also be under investigation for suspected links to terrorism.

The judge has ordered a freeze on the financial assets of Ghannouchi, the speaker of the parliament that dissolved Saied, as well as former Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and several other people.

Last week, Ghannouchi told Reuters the investigation into him was politically motivated, saying Saied used the referendum to push Tunisia into a dictatorship.

He said in a statement Tuesday that “the malicious allegations fall within the scope of adopting a constitution that enshrines tyranny.”

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He added that he had been tried and imprisoned during the terms of two former presidents, Zine El Abdine Ben Ali and Habib Bourguiba, and that he was now also “subjected to the worst forms of injustice”.

Ennahda has been a major force in parliament and in almost every coalition government since the 2011 revolution, partnering with secular parties and moving away from its Islamic roots.

Saied has said his steps since last year, when he closed parliament and began ruling by decree before rewriting the country’s democratic constitution, were necessary to end years of political stagnation.