Families of Tunisia detainees go to Africa court to seek release


The families of Tunisian opposition figures detained in a government crackdown filed a case with Africa's human rights court on Wednesday seeking the immediate release of their loved ones.

Since early February, the authorities in the North African country have arrested more than 20 political opponents and other personalities, sparking condemnations from the international community and rights groups.

Those detained include Rached Ghannouchi, the former speaker of parliament and one of the highest profile critics of President Kais Saied, who dissolved the assembly in July 2021 as part of a power grab allowing him to rule by decree.

Ghannouchi, 81, the head of Tunisia's Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha, was arrested in April and sentenced on May 15 to one year in prison on terrorism-related charges.

His daughter Yusra Ghannouchi said the charges against her father were "politically motivated and fabricated" and part of a bid by Saied to "eliminate the opposition."

Saied claims those detained in the crackdown were "terrorists" involved in a "conspiracy against state security."

Opponents have dubbed his actions a "coup" and a return to autocratic rule in the only democracy that emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings in the region more than a decade ago.

- 'We will not be silent' -

Yusra Ghannouchi and other relatives of the detainees filed the case in the African Court of Human and Peoples Rights in Arusha, Tanzania, as part of a global campaign for their freedom.

"We hope this will lead to their release and to justice for them," she told AFP in Nairobi on the eve of a trip to Arusha.

"They are not silent and we will not be silent," said Ghannouchi, a 45-year-old mother of three who lives in Britain.

She said the relatives were also calling for the US, the EU and Britain to impose targeted sanctions against Saied and several of his ministers who are "all implicated in human rights violations".

Their British lawyer Rodney Dixon said they wanted the Arusha court to find that Tunisia's actions were in breach of Africa's human rights charter and make a provisional order for the release of the detainees.

"They are trying to fight their cases in Tunisia but the obstacle is that every door has been shut," he said, adding that the case in Arusha was on behalf of six of those rounded up.

"There is no justice through the system there... that's why they have to come to the African court to seek its intervention."

He said those behind bars were not getting regular access to lawyers, and were having difficulty getting proper medical care.

"In the case of some of the detainees there has been very poor treatment, in the case of one, an allegation of torture will also be raised at the Africa court."

Ghannouchi said she was worried about her father's health as he suffers from hypertension and "he is no longer a young man."

Ghannouchi was imprisoned twice in the 1980s for clandestine political activities before going into exile for 20 years and then returning following the toppling of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the 2011 Arab Spring revolt.

Tunisia is one of only six African countries that have fully signed up to the court.

Dixon said he expected the court to hear the case in June.