Nabil Karoui, a Tunisian media mogul and one of the frontrunners in the upcoming presidential election, has started a hunger strike demanding to be allowed to vote during the September 15 elections.
Karoui, 56, owner of the Nessma TV channel, was detained three weeks ago on suspicion of tax evasion and money laundering.
“Karoui started an open-ended hunger strike since Wednesday to demand his right to vote on Sunday,” his lawyer Ridha Belhadj was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
Authorities were not immediately available for comment.
A court of appeal is due to hear Karoui’s request to be released pending a final verdict in his case on Friday.
The businessman, considered one of the favourites in the elections, was arrested three weeks ago after being accused by regulators and some politicians of using Nessma to bolster his political ambitions.
Surveys by Tunisian polling agency Sigma Conseil have consistently put Karoui in the lead, with his detention only adding to his popularity.
His main rivals are Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, Defence Minister Abd el Karim Zbidi, former president Moncef Marzouki, and Abdel Fattah Mourou, vice president of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party.
Karoui’s arrest came the same day as electoral and media authorities announced they had banned three local outlets, including his popular Nessma TV, from reporting on the presidential election campaign, after they had broadcast “illegally” without licences.
Soon after Karoui declared his intention to run for the top position in May – a month after President Essebsi announced he would not seek re-election – he faced a number of administrative hurdles.
On June 18, parliament approved amendments to the electoral law that would have barred Karoui from running on account of his ownership of a popular television station he used to promote his philanthropic work and which, it was argued, gave him a competitive advantage over other contenders.
Critics say the amendments were tailored to prevent Karoui from running, but Essebsi refused to ratify the law before his death last month.
Karoui was an active supporter of Essebsi’s election in 2014 and has become the fiercest rival of Prime Minister Chahed.
The media tycoon has previously said he is being targeted by “attempts to undermine his growing popularity” ahead of the election which willl be held following Essebi’s death.
The country’s election commission has approved 26 candidates, including two women and Marzouki.
Tunisia’s president controls foreign and defence policy, governing alongside a prime minister chosen by Parliament who has authority over domestic affairs.
Al Jazeera and news agencies