On May 5, 2022, Tunisia’s General Prosecution Office of the Court of First Instance in Tunis decided to open an investigation into Nadia Akacha, President Kais Saied’s former chief of staff and closest aide, regarding leaks of audio recordings containing information about the president’s mental health and his handling of state affairs.
Contents of the Recordings
On one recording, a woman alleged to be Akacha describes the president as suffering from a psychological illness that he refuses to acknowledge but that requires psychiatric treatment, as well as having received warnings from doctors about a potentially life-threatening seizure.
On other recordings, the woman mocks Saied’s handling of state affairs and makes claims about his family relations and his family’s — especially his “sister-in-law’s — control over the state, a sensitive topic in Tunisia that “revived the controversy about the ‘family rule’ that prevailed . . . especially during the rule of [former Presidents] Bourguiba and Ben Ali (and to a lesser extent during the rule of [former President] Essebsi).”
Background to the Controversy
Akacha stepped down from her position in January 2020, “citing ‘fundamental disagreements’ with the administration as the president’s post-coup policies faced growing criticism,” her resignation reportedly due to Army Chief of Staff Mohamed El Ghoul’s refusing her request to arrest parliament speaker and Islamist Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi. She had been one of the president’s staunchest supporters and in May 2021 reportedly had in her private office a copy of a top secret plan for Saied to seize power in a coup, suspend parliament, and “declare a ‘constitutional dictatorship[,]’ which the authors of the document said [would be] a tool for ‘concentrating all powers in the hand of the president of the republic.’” Saied ultimately took these very steps in July 2021.
Akacha, who reportedly now lives in Paris and still speaks highly of last year’s coup, last week claimed in a Facebook post that Saied and his circle were a “group of losers who do not understand anything” and, apparently referring to Saied, stated that “unfortunately this moment and this path were seized by someone who has no honour, no religion, no patriotism.”
The Investigation of Akacha
The General Prosecution Office has assigned the anti-terrorism and state security unit to pursue the investigation of Akacha, whose purpose is to “verify the authenticity, circumstances, and content [of the recordings], and impose legal consequences” for the leak.
In her Facebook post Akacha denied that it was her voice in the recordings and labeled them as “doctored as part of a ‘campaign of distortion’ against her.”
If the public prosecution verifies that the audio recordings are of Akacha, she could be charged under the Penal Code and Decree No. 115 of 2011.
Article 67 of the Penal Code sanctions any person who commits “an evil act” against the president with imprisonment for three years or a fine of 240 Tunisian dinars (about US$77.25), or both. Article 245 of the Code also criminalizes the act of spreading false news that is considered to be insults against an ordinary person or a public official. Article 247 of the law penalizes the aforementioned offense with imprisonment for six months and a fine of 240 dinars.
Likewise, article 54 of Decree No. 115 of 2011 penalizes any person who deliberately publishes false news that may undermine the peace of public order with a fine of 2,000–5,000 dinars (about US$644–$1,610).
Article 122 of the Tunisian Code of Criminal Procedure defines misdemeanors as offenses punishable by imprisonment for 15 days to five years. Accordingly, the first instance court of misdemeanors is the competent court to adjudicate the aforementioned offenses.
Each first instance court includes a first instance court of misdemeanors — a criminal chamber that has jurisdiction over misdemeanor crimes. (Code of Criminal Procedure art. 124.) A first instance court of misdemeanors consists of a presiding judge and two other judges. (Art. 205.)