Tunis – Tunisia’s hunger striking former justice minister Noureddine Bhiri is “near death”, his party warned Wednesday, while a doctor treating him in detention told AFP he was in a “stable condition”.
Bhiri and former interior ministry official Fathi Baldi of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party were arrested by plainclothes police officers on December 31 and later accused of possible “terrorism” offences.
Neither have been formally charged.
The 63-year-old Bhiri, who suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and a heart condition, has been on a hunger strike since he was detained.
Ennahdha said in a statement on Facebook that Bhiri’s “state of health has reached a very dangerous stage and he is close to death”.
It added that it held the authorities “fully responsible” for Bhiri’s life.
But a doctor at the hospital where he is being held in Bizerte, north of Tunis, told AFP that “there has been no development in his condition, which remains stable”.
Ennahdha has played a central role in Tunisian politics since the revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
But it has since become a principal target of President Kais Saied, who last July sacked the government and froze the Ennahdha-dominated parliament, later moving to rule by decree.
While some Tunisians, tired of a system seen as corrupt, have backed Saied’s moves, his opponents and civil society groups have voiced fears of a slide back to the authoritarianism of Ben Ali.
The United Nations rights commission and Human Rights Watch have both called for Bhiri and Baldi to either be charged or released.
As well as staging a hunger strike, Bhiri had initially refused medicines for his existing conditions, but later acquiesced, his doctors said.
Tunisia’s anti-torture commission, the INPT, which had visited Bhiri in hospital on Sunday, said it was planning another visit.
An INPT source told AFP that Baldi had been allowed visits by the commission’s officials and by family members, but said neither men had been allowed access to a lawyer.
The source urged authorities to respect the men’s “right to a defence and right to a legal procedure transparently monitored by a judge”.
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