African Court Orders Tunisia To Allow Jailed Leaders Access To Lawyers

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The African Court on Human and People’s Rights has ordered the Tunisian government to “eliminate all barriers” and allow detained political prisoners, including the former speaker of parliament Rached Ghannouchi, access to their legal representatives and doctors, their lawyers said.

Friday’s decision came after a case was filed  with the court in Tanzania on behalf of the family members of the “detainees and deceased”, by Rodney Dixon, a British lawyer representing some of these families.

The court also ordered the Tunisian government to inform the detainees, their families and lawyers of the reasons for their detention, and to provide them with “adequate information and facts” in relation to their arrests.

Relatives of jailed Tunisian opposition figures, who were imprisoned in a crackdown launched by President Kais Saied, had approached the court as part of a global campaign in May.

Saied dissolved parliament in July 2021 as part of a power grab allowing him to rule by decree. He has since written a new constitution, taken control of the judiciary and diluted the electoral commission to award himself near-unlimited control – steps that have widely been criticised by rights groups, and labelled a “coup” by his opponents.

Among those imprisoned is Ghannouchi, a strident critic of Saied and the 81-year-old head of the country’s largest political party, Ennahdha.

The case was also filed on behalf of Said Ferjani, a prominent opposition figure, party leader Ghazi Chaouachi, and Noureddine Bhiri, an ex-MP and the former justice minister of Tunisia.

Ferjani’s daughter, Kaouther, said the conditions her father is being held in are “inhumane”.

“At the age of 69, he is confined in a severely overcrowded cell, sharing one sanitation facility with 105 other cellmates. The environment is infested and damp, with unrestricted smoking, impacting his well-being considerably,” she said.

When the case was filed back in May, after Ghannouchi had been sentenced to a year in prison, his daughter Yusra said the families were hoping to seek justice and freedom.

Others imprisoned have been accused of several offences, with some relating to security. Experts have said the charges are often trumped up and that Saied is simply pursuing his critics with abandon.