News24

Tunisia: 40 Islamists on hunger strike

2012-11-26 19:35

Tunis - At least 40 Tunisian Islamist prisoners are still on hunger strike, the justice ministry said on Monday, hours after announcing that the almost two-week protest had ended.

"After checking, only some of the strikers have ended [their protest]. We have no set number because it changes all the time," said ministry official Fadhel Saihi.

"Of around 120 striking at the beginning, nearly 80 have stopped, so there are around 40 left," he added.

Earlier in the day, Saihi said the hunger strike had ended apart from one prisoner who had been taken to hospital because of his condition.

Abdelbasset Ben Mbarek, a lawyer for one of the inmates, swiftly denied the report, saying that the justice ministry only wanted to "mislead the public".

Unverified


None of Monday's claims could be verified by an independent source.

Up to 200 prisoners have refused to eat, according to lawyers, most of them since mid-November when two fellow inmates died after refusing food for nearly two months.

Most of the strikers were arrested in connection with a wave of attacks blamed on Tunisia's hardline Salafists that has rocked the country since its revolution of January 2011.

Saihi said earlier that joint efforts by the justice ministry, the prisoners' lawyers and civil society groups helped end the strike.

"The judiciary has promised to bring forward their trials," he said.

The justice ministry also said last week that a large number of prisoners had ended their hunger strike, claims again denied by lawyers.

Arrested

Around 220 Salafist Islamists have been arrested in 2011 and 2012 over numerous attacks, Saihi said.

The targets of the attacks have included Nessma TV channel, an art exhibition in a Tunis suburb and the US embassy, which was stormed by Islamists on 14 September in violence that left four people dead.

The Salafists themselves, who adhere to an ultra-orthodox form of Sunni Islam, say around 900 fellow hardliners have been arrested since the uprising that ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.