Tunisian presidential candidate freed days before election

TUNIS: A Tunisian appeals court on Wednesday freed presidential candidate Nabil Karoui days before Sunday’s second-round runoff election, his lawyer Kamal Ben Massoud said.
Karoui, a media mogul, was detained in August before the first round of the election and has spent the entire campaign period in prison pending a verdict in his trial for money laundering and tax evasion, which he denies.
Meanwhile, an EU observer mission on Tuesday regretted the lack of campaigning for Tunisia’s presidential run-off between a candidate detained in prison and a rival who has called off his own canvassing for votes.
Business tycoon Nabil Karoui has been behind bars since late August — just before campaigning began for the first round — in a money laundering probe, but won through to the run-off on Sunday.
He will run against conservative law professor Kais Saied, who announced last Saturday that he would stop his campaign to keep a level playing field with his adversary.
“What we are seeing is an unprecedented situation — a campaign of silence instead of debate — because one cannot campaign and the other does not want to,” said Fabio Massimo Castaldo, head of the EU observer mission.
The mission, as well as many Tunisian political bodies and officials, has called for Karoui to be able to campaign freely, but courts have rejected several appeals for his release.
Nazih Souei, a lawyer for Karoui, said on Tuesday that his client has lodged a suit to postpone the second round until he is free and able to campaign.
“We still hope there will be opportunities, ways of allowing each candidate to express his view,” Castaldo said, while expressing support for the Tunisian judiciary.
“Our concern is that every voter has access to the positions of the different candidates so as to shape an informed opinion,” he added.
The EU observer mission also regretted that Nessma TV, a channel founded by Karoui, had not been officially granted permission to broadcast on the election.
Tunisia’s legislative elections held on October 6, however, had been “well organised”, it said.
Polling stations will open to the seven-million Tunisian electorate for the third time in a month on Sunday for the presidential run-off.
Karoui and Saied are both political outsiders who campaigned on anti-establishment platforms. — Reuters/AFP