AfCHPR Orders the Tunisian Government to Allow Medical and Legal Access of Their Choice to Political Dissidents

By: Paola Andrea Suárez Luján

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ARUSHA, Tanzania – Family members of Tunisian prisoners Rached Ghannouchi, Noureddine Bhiri, Ghazi Chaouachi, Said Ferjani, and the son of the deceased member of the Ennahda Party Ridha Bouzayene have asked the African Court on Human and People’s Rights to order the Tunisian government to provide the detainees “unimpeded access to their lawyers and to doctors of their choice” and to “provide particulars of the legal and factual grounds” of their detention and prosecution. They have also requested the suspension of the conviction of Rached Ghannouchi and the release of the prisoners.

Protestors in Tunis, Tunisia, carry images of political prisoners under President Saied’s government and Tunisian flags | Photo courtesy of The Guardian/Anadolu Agency.

The Court granted the request of the families to allow the detainees access to lawyers and doctors of their choice, as well as access to complete and adequate information regarding the basis for their detention. However, the Court refused to review the merits of the arrest or to order the release of the detainees at this stage of the proceedings.

Rached Ghannouchi, at 81 years old, is the leader of the Ennahda Party, the largest political party in the Republic of Tunisia. He was convicted on the charges of glorifying terrorism and conspiring against state security after he affirmed in the funeral eulogy of Farhat Al-Abbar, a former Ennahdha member and Al-Jazeera Correspondent, that the deceased “did not fear poverty, ruler or tyrant”. Amnesty International has declared that “the sentencing of Rashed Ghannouchi shows a growing crackdown on human rights and opposition and a deeply worrying pattern”. Ghannouchi is but one of over 40 opposing political targets who have been detained due to political charges against the Tunisian government.

The accusations came after Tunisian President Kais Saied’s self-coup in 2021, when he fired the prime minister, assumed all executive power, suspended the parliament, and dissolved the government. President Kais Seid’s strategy includes the arbitrary imposition of travel bans on political opposition, members of parliament, civilians, and journalists, and trials in violation of the right to freedom of expression under Decree-law 54. President Saied has also obtained the power to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council formed in 2016 under Decree-law 22 and established a temporary one himself, with members of his choosing. Under Decree-Law 35, President Saied can also object to any judge’s appointment, promotion, transfer, or dismissal; he can fire judges directly and the government can assume disciplinary procedures against judges.

Ghannouchi and other detainees have undertaken hunger strikes in protest of what they consider a “judicial sham” and a violation of their right to a fair trial. As the number of human rights violations and political persecution increases, the detainees’ families have moved to continue their pleas to the International Criminal Court, in their hope that the Court will investigate the actions of the Tunisian government and order the release of their relatives.

For further information, please see:

AfCHPR – The Matter of Moadh Kheriki Ghannouchi and Others v. Republic of Tunisia – 28 Aug. 2023

Agencia Anadolu – Tunisie : Ghannouchi demeure libre après avoir été entendu par le pôle judiciaire de lutte contre le terrorismo – 21 Feb. 2023

Amnesty International – Human Rights Under Assault Two Years After President Saied’s Power Grap

Amnesty International – Tunisia: Drop trumped-up charges against arbitrarily detained political dissidents – 10 Oct. 2023

Amnesty International – Tunisia: President must lift arbitrary travel bans – 26 Aug. 2021

Associated Press – Families of imprisoned Tunisian dissidents head to the International Criminal Court – 25 Oct. 2023

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – One Year Later, Tunisia’s President Has Reversed Nearly a Decade of Democratic Gains – 22 July 2022

Le Monde – Tunisia: Opposition party leader Rached Ghannouchi sentenced to a year in prison – 15 May 2023

Author: Sydney Krause