Tunisian lawyers call for strike over arrest of their colleague amid crackdown on dissent

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Hooded police raided Tunisia’s bar association headquarters and arrested a lawyer as authorities escalated a broad government crackdown that has ensnared political dissidents, non-governmental organizations and Black migrants.

Sonia Dahmani, a prominent critic of the government, was arrested Saturday after making sarcastic remarks about Tunisia on a local television program last week and charged with distributing false information and disrupting public order.

She’s the latest dissident to be charged under the country’s controversial Decree 54, an anti-fake news law that the government has used to pursue critics of President Kais Saied.

The Tunisian Lawyers Council called on Sunday for a nationwide general strike to be held by all lawyers.

Dahmani’s advocates had gathered at the bar association Saturday to protest a warrant for her arrest when police stormed the building. French television reporters broadcast the event live on air.

The bar association has long carried “symbolic power” in Tunisia, so much so that authorities didn’t enter its doors under its pre-Arab Spring dictator, Fadoua Braham, a Tunisian lawyer, told The Associated Press.

“Today we are seeing hooded individuals using force and taking away a lawyer by force because of, quite simply, a matter of opinion,” she said, noting that those who arrested Dahmani were not clearly identifiable as law enforcement officers, according to the French television footage.

Other civil society organizations expressed concern and said the arrest contributed to an ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders, activists, journalists and opposition leaders.

The Tunisian General Labour Union, the country’s most powerful workers’ group, joined other civil society organizations, activists and lawyers at the bar association headquarters on Sunday.

The group said it “strongly condemns this blatant and unprecedented attack on the Tunisian legal profession and considers it one of the preludes to establishing a state of violations and tyranny, especially since it came after a wave of incitement, promotion of hate speech, division and treason.”

The arrest was the latest to spark outrage and condemnation from human rights defenders in Tunisia. It came less than a week after Saadia Mosbah, a Black Tunisian activist known for her advocacy on behalf of African migrants was arrested and charged with money laundering. Mosbah was a well-known critic Saied’s inflammatory rhetoric against migrants.

Authorities on Saturday evening also arrested television and radio presenter Borhen Bssais and columnist Mourad Zeghidi after both criticized the situation developing in the country.

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