Tunis, Tunisia – Tunisian former justice minister Noureddine Bhiri, who has been refusing food or medication since his arrest last week, has agreed to treatment, doctors said on Wednesday, after his supporters expressed alarm over his health.
The 63-year-old, who was arrested by plainclothes officers on Friday and later accused of possible ‘terrorism’ offences, suffers from several pre-existing health conditions and was hospitalised on Sunday.
The Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, of which he is deputy chairman, played a central role in Tunisian politics until a power grab by President Kais Saied last year.
“Saying he is stable would be saying a lot,” medics from the hospital in the northern town of Bizerte told Mosaique Radio on Wednesday.
Bhiri’s blood pressure was still high and “his kidneys are beginning to struggle” due to dehydration, they said.
“His family spoke with him and he accepted being put on a drip” for rehydration and treatment, “in the hope that he will agree to eat”, the medics added.
Bhiri had been on a hunger strike since his arrest and had been refusing to take his regular medication.
Earlier on Wednesday, Ennahdha lawmaker Samir Dilou, citing medical sources, had told reporters that Bhiri was “between life and death” and that his wife and children were on standby.
“Those who ordered his kidnapping must assume their responsibilities,” he added, referring to Saied and his Interior Minister, Taoufik Charfeddine, who ordered Bhiri’s arrest.
A previous alarm sounded by Ennahdha about Bhiri’s health had been discounted by Tunisia’s independent national body for the prevention of torture (INPT) after it visited him late on Sunday.
The INPT said it had dispatched a medical team on Wednesday.
“They have just arrived and are carrying out their examinations, but we haven’t yet received their report,” the INPT’s Lotfi Ezzedine told AFP mid-afternoon.
Saied on July 25 sacked the Ennahdha-supported government and suspended parliament, presenting himself as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution.
He later took steps to rule by decree, and in early December vowed to press on with reforms to the political system.
The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) said Wednesday that Bhiri’s detention was “not only arbitrary but also illegal”, decrying that he was “arrested without a warrant” and that his location was “kept secret” until his hospitalisation.
Bhiri’s defence committee on Wednesday rejected the interior minister’s “terrorism” accusations against him as “totally false”.
The public prosecutor’s office said Tuesday that an investigation had been opened after it received a report “from services combating terrorism and organised crime”.
It said a Syrian couple had allegedly been assigned false identity documents and nationality certificates while Bhiri was head of the justice ministry.
Tunisia was the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring revolts of a decade ago, but civil society groups and Saied’s opponents have expressed fear of a slide back to authoritarianism after the 2011 revolution that toppled longtime dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
Human Rights Watch warned late last month that Tunisian authorities were using “repressive” dictatorship-era laws to snuff out criticism of the president.