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Tunisian judge frees two leading opponents of president

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A Tunisian judge freed two prominent political opponents of President Kais Saied, nearly five months after they were arrested on suspicion of plotting against state security, their lawyer Monia Bouali told Reuters.

Chaima Issa and Lazahr Akremi were detained in February along with 20 other political leaders in a crackdown the opposition says aimed to establish authoritarian rule by Saied, who in 2021 dissolved parliament and seized wide-ranging powers.

Issa is a leader in the Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition to Saied which has organised protests against him over the past two years.

Akremi, a lawyer who served as a minister after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, has been a prominent critical voice against Saied.

In front of the prison, dozens of supporters gathered, waiting for Issa.

After her release from prison, Issa chanted, “Down with the coup. Down with Kais Saied”

“The injustice against the rest of the prisoners must end… Imprisoning the dissidents will not solve Tunisia’s problems,” Issa told Reuters.

“I paid the price, but we must continue,” she added.

The main opposition parties have decried their leaders’ arrests as politically motivated, and rights groups have urged authorities to free the detainees.

Saied has described them as terrorists and traitors and says judges who free them would be abetting their alleged crimes.

Saied ruled by decree from September 2021 to March 2023, a step described as a coup by the opposition and one he has called necessary to save the country from chaos and corruption.

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Before the judge’s verdict, dozens of prisoners’ families protested near the court in Tunis, holding up pictures of the detainees and calling for their release.