Tunisia’s presidential candidate released from prison

Nabil Karoui , Tunisia’s presidential candidate’s hunger strike has paid off as he has been released from prison, averting the possibility of electing an imprisoned candidate. The business mogul is still waiting for a verdict in his corruption trial.

The 56-year-old who was permitted to run despite his arrest reached the final stage in the run-off election. However, according to his lawyer, Kamel Ben Messoud, he was not allowed to vote because the judge has refused to give a ruling, saying it was not in his jurisdiction.

Prior to his release, Karoui had been pressing to be set free so he could campaign on an equal footing with his rival for the runoff vote. Meanwhile, Kais Saied had said he wouldn’t campaign as long as his rival was in jail. With the release, a televised debate can now take place between Saied and Karoui.

During the beginning of the Tunisian Revolution when the government refused the media from reporting on the unrest. Karoui used his position at Nessma to begin a political debate on the ongoing protests, providing some viewers with their first information on local media about the protests. Karoui has never held political office, however, his political debates, his charity and his media business have given him leverage even though critics have accused him of using these to further his political ambitions.

In 2016, a Non-Governmental Organization, I-Watch, accused Karoui of money laundering and embezzlement through a foreign shell company. By 2017, a recording showing Karoui attacking the organization, calling them “traitors”, “foreign agents” and calling on his staff to file false reports against them was leaked.

Three years later on July 8, Karoui and his brother Ghazi were charged with money laundering around the 2016 allegations. Their assets were frozen and both were forbidden from leaving the country. A warrant was issued by the Tunis Court of Appeal and Karoui was arrested on August after which the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication and the Independent High Authority for Elections forbade his television station, Nessma from covering the 2019 Tunisian presidential election.

Karoui still faces charges of money laundering and tax fraud, which he denies. Although a specific date has not been publicly set to hand down a final verdict in the case, he still remains subject to a travel ban and asset freeze.

Till a verdict is passed, his release could also make it easier for his party, Heart of Tunisia, to negotiate with the moderate Islamist Ennahda party to form a coalition government. In the parliamentary elections, Karoui’s new Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia) appeared to be heading for victory, according to polling agencies, though the rival conservative Ennahdha party, a member of several coalitions since the revolution which backed Saied, has come in first in Tunisia’s parliamentary election, according to an exit poll broadcast by state TV. However, both parties claimed to come out on top of Sunday’s voting.