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Court Rules Tunisian Presidential Candidate to Remain in Jail

Court Rules Tunisian Presidential Candidate to Remain in Jail

Tuesday, 1 October, 2019 - 17:45
An electoral poster for jailed presidential candidate Nabil Karoui is seen in Tunis, Tunisia, September 10, 2019. (AP)

Tunisian presidential candidate Nabil Karoui will remain in prison as he competes in the country’s upcoming presidential runoff.

One of Karoui's lawyers, Ined Ben Halima, told The Associated Press that a Tunis court on Tuesday rejected the candidate's appeal to be released.

The runoff vote is set for October 13.

The 56-year-old Karoui, co-owner of the private TV station Nessma TV, is facing off against 61-year-old conservative law professor Kais Said to become the North African nation's next leader. The election was held early due to the death in office in July of President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Karoui, who came second behind Said, was jailed on August 23 pending an investigation into alleged money laundering and tax evasion charges. He was allowed to remain in the race because he has not been convicted. He says the charges are politically motivated.

The electoral commission has said Karoui can compete in the runoff unless he is convicted, though there seems little chance of an imminent verdict.

Said and Karoui’s success in beating established political leaders including the prime minister, two former premiers and a former president, was seen as a sharp rebuke to Tunisia’s ruling elite after years of economic discontent.

The electoral commission has warned that Karoui’s detention may violate his right to a fair hearing with voters, putting it at odds with Tunisia’s judiciary, which has repeatedly ruled that he must stay behind bars.

If he wins election, it is unclear if he could be sworn into office in prison instead of the parliament chamber, or if the immunity the constitution gives presidents would apply to crimes not yet tried in court.

A parliamentary election, in which Karoui’s Heart of Tunisia party is running, will take place on Sunday. The biggest party in parliament can shape the choice of prime minister and the formation of a government.

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