Tunisia has stopped at least 50 officials, politicians and businessmen from travelling abroad since the president seized governing powers last month, Amnesty International said.
“President Kais Saied has made widespread use of arbitrary travel bans in Tunisia while bypassing the judiciary,” it said, adding that the total number of people affected was likely “far greater” than the 50 cases it documented.
The office of the president did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Saied said late on Monday he was indefinitely extending emergency measures he announced on July 25 that included removing the prime minister, freezing parliament and lifting immunity of its members, moves his foes call a coup.
While Saied’s intervention appears to have widespread popular support and has not triggered a violent crackdown, it has thrust Tunisia into a constitutional crisis and cast doubt on its democratic gains since the 2011 revolution.
He has said his actions are legal and were needed to save Tunisia from collapse, has denied he would become a dictator and said restrictions on travel have only been used temporarily against those suspected of corruption or security threats.
However, authorities have detained or put under house arrest several officials and politicians, while border police have prevented others from travelling, raising fears for the rights won in 2011.
Saied has also sacked some security officials and figures in central and regional government, while police have detained people they say were involved in corruption in the phosphate industry.
“If Tunisian authorities want these measures to be seen as legitimate steps in the name of fighting corruption or ensuring state security, they need to devise a narrow and accountable means of doing so,” Amnesty said.
Imen Labidi, a judge, was stopped as she was about to board a flight to Turkey for a family holiday, held for two hours and then told she could not leave Tunisia based on an Interior Ministry notice, Amnesty said.
Anouar Benchahed, a parliamentary member from the Attayar party which backs Saied, was stopped as he was travelling to France on Aug. 15 and later said in a tweet that Saied’s moves constituted a coup.
Photo: Soldiers stand by as supporters of Tunisia’s President Kais Saied gather on the streets after he dismissed the government and froze parliament, in Tunis, Tunisia, 25 July 2021. Protests followed in reaction to a move by the Tunisian President Saied to suspend the country’s parliament and dismiss the Prime Minister, Hichem Mechichi late 25 July. EPA-EFE/STR