Tunisia: Family of detained politician call on UK to sanction Kais Saied

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The family of Tunisian politician Said Ferjani called on the British government on Wednesday to impose sanctions on President Kais Saied and other senior officials in Tunisia, in response to the recent crackdown on the country’s peaceful opposition.

Speaking from London, Kaouther Ferjani described how her father, who is 68, was placed in an overcrowded cell with 120 other people and taken to hospital several times because of his ill health, after being detained on the 28 February.

“My father and many other Tunisians are paying a very high price for their belief in human rights and their participation in democracy,” said Ferjani, during a press conference at London’s Temple Chambers, attended by journalists and members Ferjani’s family and lawyer.

‘Without sanctions relief, there is little hope that things will change in Tunisia’

– Rodney Dixon, Ferjani’s lawyer

“He was sent to the hospital a few times. He lost consciousness when doctors tried to do a blood test and they couldn’t take his blood because they weren’t allowed to suffocate him. There is no need for such cruelty and injustice.

“Democracy in Tunisia cannot survive if these are the consequences for expressing an opinion.”

Other figures named in the sanctions application include former Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine, Justice Minister Leila Jaffel, Defense Minister Imed Memmich and former acting Interior Minister Ridha Gharsallaoui.

Tunisia has been mired in political and economic crises since July 2021, when Saied unilaterally suspended parliament and dissolved the government in what has been called a “constitutional coup”.

He then ruled by decree, before pushing through a new constitution that covered his one-man rule.

Human rights lawyer Rodney Dixon, who represents Ferjani and other Tunisians held by Saied, lodged the sanctions request with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly under Britain’s Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations.

“The purpose of the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations is to deter and prosecute those who commit serious human rights violations,” Dixon said.

“Our clients suffered such abuse, as part of a wider pattern of systematic violations of human rights laws. They were targeted, detained and tortured and, in the case of Ridha Bouzayene, murdered.”

Dixon added that his request for sanctions was made on behalf of Noureddine Bhiri, MP and former Tunisian justice minister, Bechir Akremi, judge and former public prosecutor, Said Ferjani, and the late opposition party member Ridha Bouzayene.

He pointed out that sanctions, if imposed, would mean that Saied and members of his family would not be allowed to enter Britain, and that any assets owned by Saied in the United Kingdom would be frozen indefinitely.

At a press conference in London on Wednesday, Dixon said he planned to pursue sanctions against Said in other jurisdictions, including the EU, which follows a similar sanctions process for Britain.

“We want to create a network around the world where people accused of these heinous crimes will not be allowed to travel freely,” he said.

“Without sanctions relief, there is little hope that things will change in Tunisia.”

Claims trump up

After his arrest in Tunisia last month, Ferjani was hospitalized following a hunger strike in protest against a court decision to imprison him without charge.

His daughter, Kaouther, said Tunisian police questioned her father about the media company Instalingo, although he is not named as one of the defendants currently being investigated.

Instalingo is a media company based in Tunisia that is under investigation by the authorities. Some of their employees were detained on charges of committing a “dangerous act against the head of state”.

The company denied links to the Ennahda party and said that the case against them is “completely political” by President Kais Saied.

In 2021, a leaked document obtained by Middle East Eye revealed how Saied planned to seize control of Tunisia in a bloodless coup.

The document stated that Ferjani would be among several political figures placed under house arrest to help Saied take control of the country.

Ferjani was arrested in 1987 by the late dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

He spent 18 months in prison, where interrogators are said to have broken his back and fractured his vertebrae with an iron rod.

But after a popular revolution ousted Ben Ali from power in 2011, Ferjani returned to Tunisia from exile in London and was elected as an MP for Ennahda, serving as a party adviser.

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