TUNIS: At least 40 Tunisian militant prisoners are still on hunger strike, the justice ministry told AFP yesterday, 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, telling AFP that the justice ministry only wanted to “mislead the public.”
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.
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.
Around 220 militants 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 militants. Militants themselves say around 900 of them have been arrested since the uprising that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.